God loves me. He also loves my enemies.
A Reflection for Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Find today’s readings here.
“But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (Mt 5:44-45)
In his book Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, Greg Boyle, S.J., writes a beautiful section on just how much God loves us, and what that love looks like in practice. He describes a father looking upon a child and smiling, wearing on his face the symbol of a complete and unconditional love. In a quote I’ve come back to often since I first read it, he writes:
It is precisely because we have such an overactive disapproval gland ourselves that we tend to create God in our own image. It is truly hard for us to see the truth that disapproval does not seem to be part of God’s DNA. God is just too busy loving us to have any time left for disappointment.
For those of us who are card-carrying members of the self-critical club, this idea is difficult to accept, but potentially transformative. What if our images of a punishing or strict or even judging God aren’t right? What if there is no room and no time for anything else but love and care? It’s an invitation to let go of our own preoccupations with perfection, to forgive ourselves, to let God in without protest. I love this invitation. I need this invitation.
But if we accept the transformative idea that God loves us without reservation, we also have to accept that we’re not the only ones.
It’s easy for me to say that God loves all people. Yes, I believe that. I believe that God looks fondly upon people in all parts of the world, that God cares deeply about the poor and that he is close to people who suffer.
If we accept the transformative idea that God loves us without reservation, we also have to accept that we’re not the only ones.
It’s harder for me to remember it when someone is really on my nerves, or worse, when someone really hurts me. Especially when I’m in the midst of a conflict, it’s too easy to focus on all the ways I’m right and the other person is wrong, and then to tell myself and others the story as if I’m good and they’re bad.
But in today’s Gospel, when Jesus instructs the disciples to love their enemies, his message is sharper and more personal than just a general universal love, or the idea that we should accept people who are different from us. It’s a call to love the people we know up close who sometimes make our lives difficult. I’m sure you can think of your own versions of this right now; I know I can.
But Jesus acknowledges that there are people who do and will hurt us. Pray for those who persecute you. That hurt, that conflict, is not nothing. Our challenge is to find a way to love those people. The specifics of just how to do that are still a little murky to me, but the simplicity and poetry of today’s Gospel may offer some inspiration: “He makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” We hurt each other. We make mistakes. Those things are true. And yet the sun and the rain still wash over all of us, and God’s love never wavers.