“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” ~ Jesus (Matthew 5:43-45).
We know our neighbor. Or at least we should. Jesus tells us the parable of the Good Samaritan. Whether we’re the person beaten up or the person passing by, we can see a deeper understanding of neighbor.
But who is our enemy? That seems like an easy question and maybe through much of history it was. When there were clear lines drawn, wars waged, property under dispute, freedom at stake.
Nowadays, it’s trickier. Because we don’t like to think in terms of enemies. We’ve blunted the admonishment by refusing to admit we have actual enemies. That’s judgmental and divisive, right?
We have people we disagree with, people we compete with, people we want to correct, people who want to correct us. But they’re not our enemies. We’re aghast if we hear someone say so boldly, “that person is my enemy.”
It’s seems so, so, well, implacable. So irreconcilable. And what we want is reconciliation, right?
Of course we don’t. We want to be right. We want to ease the fury in our own souls. We want to put people in their place if they violate us or others we care for.
We shy away from the term, but we have enemies. We all have enemies. Toss aside the therapeutic or ethics-laden language, and it’s clear.
Like in the Good Samaritan passage, Jesus connects this idea of loving your enemy to our relationship with God. It’s not a secondary issue. It’s what, we might even say, distinguishes Christians from others.
But the question remains. Who is my enemy?
I don’t have a parable, but I have an idea. Comes from watching my own life and the lives of others. Enemies are all around us.
Who are they?
If I always assume the worst possible motives for what someone has done, they are my enemy.
If something happens and I don’t know the reasons, but immediately jump to the worst possible conclusions. They are my enemy.
If I expect that they are malicious in what they are doing, like they are purposefully offending us, they are my enemy.
What are our assumptions about a given person? The people we love, we excuse, we defend. Often to a fault (which means its not always right to defend them or something they have done).
The people who are our enemies, we accuse and lay blame, create a crime with the least possible support. We assume the worst about them.
We immediately jump to the most negative way we can explain their behavior in a given situation. We justify our anger at them, we give credence to our hatred, we give support to our loathing.
If our enemy is the person we consistently attribute the worst motives in what they do, then it seems our enemies are all around us. Almost every marriage turns from a relationship of friend to a relationship of enemy. We have enemies in politics and enemies in causes and enemies in religions. We have enemies in the workplace and at social events and in traffic.
We assume the worst motives in what they do, or say, or think. They are our enemies.
Love them, Jesus says. So that we may be children of the Father.
Maybe that means instead of jumping to the worst possible motives, we take the time and perspective to discover their true motives and thoughts and reasons for decisions. That’s what love does. It hopes for the best, it hopes in the best, of others.
Note, that Jesus doesn’t say, “Love other people’s enemies.” That’s usually a lot easier. “Love your enemy,” he says. So first we have to consider who our particular enemies are.