By Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline
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I’ve been thinking almost exclusively over the past week about my enemies. I don’t mean this in a "plotting revenge, twirling my mustache" sort of way. Anyways, my mustache is not long enough to twirl.
I’ve been thinking a lot about enemies: how to love them, why to love them, who they are, why they’re my enemies…
But I’m also thinking about the utility of having enemies in the first place.
Are we supposed to have enemies?
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Personally, I don’t have that many enemies. It’s just never been in my nature.
That’s the advice Jesus gives us. In telling us to love our enemies, it seems that there’s a tacit recognition that we will, indeed, have enemies. That there will be people who persecute us. Jesus had his share of enemies. He made enemies of the religious elite, of Herod, of that one place where he caused pigs to run into the sea, of the occupying government. Jesus had plenty of enemies. He had enough enemies that there was a successful conspiracy to have him executed for blasphemy and sedition.
What are we to learn from the enemies Jesus had? Why did those people end up as his enemies? Look at the people who got him killed. These were people who were threatened by the promise of his kingship. These were people who couldn’t stand the thought of losing power. Jesus promised a world that looked radically different from the world that they were in charge of. He preached of a world in which the poor would become the powerful, where the sick would be well, where the oppressed would go free. This world was an active threat to the status quo, and the only option these people saw was to kill him.
Are we supposed to have enemies?
Yes. Yes, we are.
But we need to make sure we have the right enemies. What is the cause of our enmity? Is it because of something interpersonal? Is it because of something we’ve done, or due to a rift that we choose not to reconcile? Or is it because we are standing on the side of the people that Jesus declared himself for? It is inevitable that we will have enemies, but it is important that we have the right enemies. Our enemies need to be the systems of injustice, the forces of oppression, the hands that drive inequality and misery.
I don’t want to seek out enemies, but my hope is that the enemies that I make are the kind of enemies that Jesus would have had. I hope that my enemies are the ones who are abusing the image of God in our neighbor, oppressing the week, destroying our planet.
And once I have those enemies, I pray that I’ll be able to find ways to love them. To let my love for them guide me in finding ways to thwart the worst impulses and in honoring the humanity inside them. I pray that I’ll be able to react like Jesus, steadfast in his conviction that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and steadfast in his mercy, love, and forgiveness. I’m not counting on dealing with my enemies with the kind of equanimity (which I’ll write more about next week) that Jesus did. That’s a tall order. But at least I have something to shoot for. It’s good to have goals.
In the meantime, try to love your enemies. Show some care for people that despise you. See their humanity. Show them that the evil they do will not corrupt your spirit, and that while you will fight against them, you will still love them.
Good luck with all of that (yikes)!