02 March 2012

Doing the Impossible - Loving Your Enemies

The words "Love your enemies" are the most radical of all words ever spoken. No other religion or philosophy urges such a demanding and seemingly impossible thing. Most religions and philosophies entreat their followers to follow the "golden rule." Words similar to that rule articulated by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount can be found in the teachings of Confucious, for example. However, even the gentlest of philosophers never urged his disciples to love his enemies. The closest that one comes to that command apart from Jesus is the notion not to hate your enemies.

What does it mean, then, to love your enemies. To love is to sacrifice. That is how love looks, how love lives. It is more than an emotion or feeling; it is stronger than liking; it far exceeds tolerance or the lack of hatred. To love means to give all that you have and all that you are to another. To love your enemy means, therefore, to be willing to sacrifice yourself and your goods for the person who is set on killing you.

Most men do not let Jesus' words, "Love your enemies," stand as bare as they truly are. Instead, they interpret them ironically or paradoxically. Yet Jesus is not speaking sardonically, or commanding the impossible. To be sure, these words seem impossible to live and, at the least, demand the very difficult. But as we consider these words, it is good to keep in mind what our holy father in the faith, St Jerome, once wrote about them: "Many people measure the precepts of God by their own weakness rather than by the strength of the saints." He then points to the examples of David loving Saul and Absalom; of Stephen loving those who stoned him; and of Paul being willing to be damned in order to save his persecutors.

And then, of course, there is the example of Our Lord Himself. When He commands us to love our enemies, Jesus is merely imploring His disciples to follow in the path that He trod; to love as He loves. And in doing so, Our Lord knows that such such is able to convert an enemy to a friend.

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