Tag Archives: loving enemies

Loving enemies, My Lai, New Zealand

Love your enemies.

A day after the killing of almost 50 in mosques in New Zealand by a white terrorist, fifty- one years after the massacre of almost 350 civilians in My Lai, South Vietnam, by US troops, today’s Gospel reading (Mathew 5: 43-48) ought to challenge us.

How can we live as people of peace if we do not love even our enemies, as God showers rain and love on all of us?

The perfection of God is in love – and so we can be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, merciful as God is, if we too love our enemies and do good to them.

Perhaps the best commentary on this text comes from a poem by the Vietnamese Buddhist spiritual master and advocate for his people, Thich Nhat Hanh. The poem, “Condemnation,” was written before the My Lai massacre in 1968. The full text can be found here, but here are several verses which, in my mind, reflect the call of Jesus to love even those who hate us and do us harm. They are also a call to live that love in concrete.

Listen to this:
yesterday six Vietcong came through my village.
Because of this my village was bombed — completely destroyed.
Every soul was killed.

Here in the presence of the undisturbed stars,
in the invisible presence of all the people still alive on earth,
let me raise my voice to denounce this filthy war,
this murder of brothers by brothers!
I have question: Who pushed us into this killing of one another?
Whoever is listening, be my witness!
 I cannot accept this war.
 I never could, I never shall.
 I must say this a thousand times before I am killed.
Men cannot be our enemies — even men called ‘Vietcong!’
If we kill men, what brothers will we have left?
With whom shall we live then?

The final words are at the heart of the love of enemies:
If we kill our sisters and brothers, with whom shall we live?

I wonder if we citizens of the United States must ponder these words of Jesus even more seriously. Have  we exported violence – not just by the killings in Viet Nam and other places throughout the world, not just by exporting arms to dictators in the Mid East and in the Americas, but by exporting hatred of the other, the stranger, the enemy?


Sculpture at Coventry Cathedral

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.”