Love of Enemies
Antisthenes said: “Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes.”
In today’s gospel Christ calls his followers to make a radical change in thinking. He says: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (v. 44). This commandment is not at all new. Even from the time of Moses, the Jews are obliged to love their neighbor although their idea of their “neighbor” was often vague. Their love of neighbor is understood to mean love of a fellow Israelite or one’s brother. And so for them love of one’s enemy would have been considered madness. But Jesus gives new meaning to an old law and defines exactly who our neighbors are, extending the neighborhood to the farthest corners of the globe, one’s enemies and living this teaching with his life. The Good News of Christ demanded a more perfect love, love of friend and foe. What Christ asks of us is nothing if He has not already lived this in His life.
You know what, one of the difficult things to do as a Christian is obeying this commandment, ‘love your enemies.’ How can you love somebody who hurt you! But why we have to love our enemies? We have to love our enemies not because they deserve to be treated in that way but because as God wishes them to be treated with loving-kindness and mercy. Somebody said: “God is good to the unjust as well as the just. His love embraces saint and sinner alike. God seeks our highest good and teaches us to seek the greatest good of others, even those who hate and abuse us. Our love for others, even those who are ungrateful and selfish towards us, must be marked by the same kindness and mercy which God has shown to us. It is easier to show kindness and mercy when we can expect to benefit from doing so. It is harder when we expect nothing in return.”
Jesus says, “love your enemies.” What does He mean by these words? Does He mean we should have enemies and then later on love them? Or does He mean we should not have enemies at all? Let us take into consideration that He is speaking about the disciples and their persecutors. “Enemies” here mean those who hate the disciples and not those that the disciples hate. Disciples are to hate no one. If by enemies we mean those we hate, then Christians should have no enemies. But if by enemies we mean those who hate us, then we cannot help having enemies. We cannot control how others treat us; we can only control our attitude to them. What Jesus is asking us now is that we should not return hatred for hatred or hostility for hostility. Jesus is telling us clearly that we must not exclude a single person from our love no matter what they have done or will do. We cannot do this because this is the way Jesus himself lived. He put this teaching into practice in his own life. He remains the greatest teacher and example of this even if they were leading Him out to a shameful, public execution on the cross, He still able to say: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34).
The best thing that we can do as regards to our enemies is to easily forgive them especially those who hate us and not those we hate by reminding ourselves that they are acting in ignorance and that one day the truth will dawn on them. And also Debbie Morris, a surviving victim of Robert Willie (of Dead Man Walking), said, “Justice didn’t do a thing to heal me. Forgiveness did!” She points out a valuable lesson. When we forgive, it is another step towards healing. All of the justice and all of the anger in the world won’t lead to healing but forgiveness is a necessity in the healing process.