The discomfort of loving enemies

Neither of today’s lectionary readings (Colossians 3: 12-17 and Luke 6: 27-38) should provide comfort to the militarists – nor to most of us.

Paul (Colossians 3: 12) puts the call to love and forgiveness at the center of what it means to be a disciple:

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.

But Jesus in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6: 27-38) makes it distressingly real:

To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you….
… love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.

In the midst of cries for war, vengeance, and the use of violence, the follower of Christ should be the person who seeks reconciliation and peace.

But peace does not mean ignoring injustice, ignoring criminal acts. It means seeking new imaginative ways to work for peace and justice in the world.

The Christian choice is not between aggression and submission. It is the choice to find new and imaginative ways to be on the side of the victims, without seeking the conversion of the victimizers.

The choice for life is the choice for breaking down barriers, even as we identify with the victims.

I think John Paul Lederach put it well in The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace:

Transcending violence is forged by the capacity to generate, mobilize, and build the moral imagination.… the moral imagination requires the capacity to imagine ourselves in a web of relationships that includes our enemies; the ability to sustain a paradoxical curiosity that embraces complexity without reliance on dualistic polarity; the fundamental belief in and pursuit of the creative act; and the acceptance of the inherent risk of stepping into the mystery of the unknown that lies beyond the far too familiar landscape of violence.

The mystery of imaginative, sacrificial reconciliation has been shown to us in Jesus, who refused to kill his enemies, but suffering for them (that is, for us) with love that offers a way to go beyond false divisions and dichotomies that separate us into enemies.

This is not easy. But it is the way of discipleship to which Paul call us (Colossians 3: 14-15) – “putting on love” and “letting the peace of Christ control out hearts.”

 

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One response to “The discomfort of loving enemies

  1. No, it is NOT easy, John. It seems nearly impossible. The only way we can accept this concept is to ‘put on the mind of Christ’ as Paul tells us. And yet, we cannot continue on the road that we have been on for decades.
    Thank you for this reminder.

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