“Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors.”
We all have enemies, if not all the time at least at sometimes in our lives. If you haven’t ever had an enemy, you must not be alive. You must not be moving. Because to be alive and to show any initiative and direction is to cross the path of someone else going in a different direction, doing a different thing. Conflicts arise quite naturally in life and are not necessarily bad. In the least they let us know we exist and have a being different than those around us.
Our readings today offer us some simple wisdom on how to relate to our enemies- on what to do when conflicts arise. First, remember who you are and whose you are. You are a holy child of God. Carry yourself with that dignity. Do not diminish your humanity by stooping to animalistic, instinctive reactions. As Moses said, it is necessary to reprove others at times but don’t do it with malice of intent. In reproving others we do not do it to reestablish our rights, our person – we know who we are, but rather it is for their benefit – to call them to live as a holy child of God.
Secondly, the Psalms remind us that we have been forgiven much. Those who have been forgiven much ought to be ready to forgive others. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we sweep the offense under the rug. That won’t do anyone any good. It does mean that we address the issues, seek some level of resolution and then move on. Forgiveness means that we don’t continue to hold that person in suspicion, just waiting for them to slip up again so we can shake our heads and cluck our tongues, “I knew they’d fail. I knew they were like that.” It means that we release them to become the new people we have challenged them to be.
Paul gives us our third bit of wisdom for dealing with enemies. He reaffirms our holiness as being people of God but warns us not to get uppity about it! You may be a holy child of God, but you’re not yet perfect in wisdom. Don’t come off as a know it all prophet of God. “I’m not angry. This is righteous indignation!” Don’t be condescending toward your enemy. “There, there now you poor little thing, if you only knew as I know, you’d see things my way.”
Christ himself offers us the next insight for enemy relations. Do something nice for them. Often when people mistreat us it is because they are trying to establish their own identity, unfortunately, at our expense. They put us down so that they can appear raised up. They use their power against us so that they can prove to themselves that they exist. By doing something nice for them…giving them even a simple gift, a pie for an alienated neighbor, a chat over a cup of coffee with a co-worker…we let them know that we do value them. We do acknowledge their being. They are of value to us and to God. When people know this, they are less likely to use negative ways to establish their being and identity.
Finally, Christ calls us to pray for our enemies. This brings the power of the Holy Spirit to bear upon the person. We must believe in the potential for conversion. If we can change and grow in love because of the reality of Christ in our lives then so can they. The real reason to pray, however, is not that our enemy will be changed but that we will change. Jesus knew full well that most often when we pray for others, our own fault in the situation will be revealed to us. Most conflicts begin not with the other person but with us. In prayer we find repentance, forgiveness, and the grace to seek reconciliation with our enemy.
|7th Sunday of the Year Lev. 19: 1-2, 17-18; I Cor 3: 16-23; Mt. 5: 38-48|
Peace Connections: Making the connection between the Sunday Readings and issues of peace and justice. Copyright 1995, by Thomas L. Garlitz. “Not for profit” permission to reprint granted.