Who is my enemy?
A Reflection for the Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Find today’s readings here.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you…” (Mt 5:43-5)
For much of my life I did not find what is arguably Jesus’ most challenging, unintuitive command—to love one’s enemy—to be much of a burden at all. Growing up in a loving family in a nice neighborhood, I was hard-pressed to come up with someone I would consider to be an enemy. And I certainly did not feel persecuted.
Perhaps after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, I would have said the perpetrators of that great evil in my hometown of Arlington and my future home, New York City, were my enemies. And it cost me very little to say that I “loved them” in the most abstract of ways.
But according to the German theologian Gerhard Lohfink (also cited in my last reflection—I highly recommend his book, Jesus of Nazareth!), this sort of “universal love” for one’s far-off enemies is not what Jesus had in mind (194).
Who then is my enemy? “The person against whom one bears hatred in one’s heart is one’s enemy,” Lohfink writes. And what does it mean to love such a person? “Love in the Bible is not primarily deep feeling and upwelling emotion,” he says, “but effective help.” Lohfink continues:
When, in the parable in Luke 10:30-35, the Samaritan raises up the robbery victim, pours oil and wine on his wounds and bandages them, brings him to an inn, pays the owner and assures him that he will make good on any additional costs, Jesus is describing exactly what he thinks of as love (198).
Thus, if I have hatred in my heart for anyone, whether he is a neighbor, a family member or an estranged friend, I have made him my enemy. And it is not enough to try to feel in my heart that I love him; I must seek to help him in concrete ways. That is the challenge and that is the perfection that Jesus asks of us.