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Along the Way

Love Your Enemies?

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Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time 2007 

There is a story about a certain monk back in the early days of Christian monasticism before the fall of the Roman Empire. This monk lived off in an isolated desert hermitage, where he prayed and worked at weaving baskets. One day as he returned to his little hut from tending to his small garden he noticed a stranger rummaging through the hut. The man was a thief and threatened the monk, demanding that he give him all his possessions. The monk pleasantly agreed and soon was helping the thief load his camel with everything from the little hut. Table, chairs, his inventory of baskets and weaving supplies, bedding, clothes, books and scrolls; garden vegetables, and just about anything that looked like it could be sold for a profit was put on the back of the camel. By the time they were done the camel was swaying under the weight. The monk waved good by to the thief and went back to the hut. A few minutes later the thief saw the old monk running down the street after him calling for him to stop. Eventually the monk caught up with the thief and handed him a beautiful carved box. The monk explained that he kept his copy of the scrolls of the Bible in the box and that this was his most prised possession. Certainly, the thief should not leave without it, as everything else is straw when compared with this treasure. The thief grabbed the box and started off down the road once more. This time the camel went to his knees and refused to go a step further under the weight of the thief’s ill-gotten gain. The thief took this as a sign from God and repented of his evil doing, he returned everything to the monk and the others from whom he stole, and returned to the monk asking to be accepted has his novice. Eventually the thief became the abbot of the small community of monks that had seen the old monk as their leader.

 

We know there is virtue in being kind and forgiving. Indeed, we know that our lives must be consistent with the law of love that Christ describes as the summation of the Law and Prophets…that is, of the whole Bible. “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and strength and soul; then love your neighbor as yourself” We are usually able to apply this lesson to our family members and even to some of our neighbors. In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us that if this is the limit of our love than we are not Christian. Indeed, pagans do as much toward their families and friends. We are called to a higher standard.

 

Today’s first reading gives an example of that higher standard. David has been a loyal supporter of King Saul and has put his life on the line in battle for the King many times. He is the best friend of the Crown Prince and the King’s son-in-law. Yet, Saul becomes jealous of the praise and honor given David in light of his many accomplishments. He declares David a traitor. He escapes with his life, when the crown prince warns David of what Saul is planning. For the next ten years David is treated as an outlaw, hunted down by Saul when his only offense was serving his master well. One evening David’s men find Saul and his soldiers encamped. All are sleeping, even the men who are supposed to be on guard duty. David sneaks into Saul’s camp. He stands next to Saul who is sound asleep. He picks up Saul’s spear and with little effort could have run him through and be rid of the man who has hounded and persecuted David for so many years. David’s companion on this escapade wants to run Saul through and be done with it. Instead, David takes the spear. The next day he calls out to Saul, shows him that he has taken the spear and has not harmed Saul, even though he could have easily killed him.

 

This is the standard that Christ calls us to in today’s Gospel. Love your enemies and do good to them. We see in the opening story how such Christian behavior on the part of the monk resulted in a change of heart on the part of the thief and ultimately his commitment to Christ.

 

Psychologists tell us that Christ’s challenge to love our enemies is good for our own health. When someone hurts us and we become trapped in a feeling of resentment and anger toward that person we now consider an enemy, the only one who is really hurt is ourselves. The resentment and anger creates stress that is a factor in depression, heart problems and our general health. Letting go of the anger and resentment may or may not have an impact on our relationship with the person but it will definitely be beneficial to our health, as well as bringing us closer to what Christ asks of us.

 

To consider someone an enemy is to consider them fundamentally different from oneself and different in a way that is irreconcilable. They are alien to us and ultimately either the enemy has to go or we have to go because there is no living together. The normal response is to say that if someone has to go, I prefer that it is them and not me. Thinking of someone as an enemy puts blinders on us. Christ is telling us to take off our blinders.

 

As a young man I was a leader of a Church youth group and part of a committee that had responsibility for coordinating and encouraging youth programs that encompassed a fairly large area. I enjoyed the work but there was another young man on that committee that I couldn’t stand. He was bossy, arrogant, and constantly putting other people down, as a way of building himself up in contrast. For some strange reason, it seemed that he couldn’t stand me either. It was like a chemical reaction between the two of us. It got t the point where I hated going to meetings because instead of cooperating on how to best serve the spiritual needs of other youth, the meetings were a tense battlefield in which we were the primary combatants. One day a mutual friend took me aside and told me something of the other guy’s life history. I learned of a difficult childhood, of struggles with addiction at one point and a list of other problems. I began to see the world from his perspective and got a glimpse of what a jerk I had been. I didn’t think of him as an enemy any longer, just a friend with problems. It didn’t happen all at once but over the years we actually became friends. What once was a cause of tension, was now a source of joy.

 

Jesus challenges us to take off our blinders, so stop seeing anyone as our enemy. Rather, we should relate to one another as brother and sister. This simple change of perception breaks down barriers. The call to Christian love, in treating even those we perceive as dangerous and enemies as brothers and sisters, is no easy or weak response to a difficult situation. It is the most courageous response, requiring an inner strength that is awesome. Yet, Christ tells us that the true path to peace comes through seeing others as people like ourselves whom we can and must respond to with love.

 

Lent begins this week. Rather than focusing on what we are giving up for Lent, let’s work on changing our perceptions. Let’s work at seeing those who are different from us as our brothers and sisters. Let us work at reconciliation with those whom we dislike. Let us work at building relationships. Let us work at living the law of love.

Also read A Course in Christian Spirituality by Deacon Shewman that is available through this link.

(c) 1997-2008. Richard Shewman. All stories, articles, reflections and other written material contained in this website are the creative fruit and property of Richard Shewman. All rights are reserved. The written material contained in this website may not be reproduced or published in any form, except for the individual and personal use of the reader, without the express consent of the author.