Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
“Love your enemies”
“Love your enemies”, Jesus says, not “Don’t worry, you don’t have any enemies”. For he knows only too well about our enmities and hatreds. Yet, “love your enemies”, he says. How absolutely impossible! How utterly improbable!
Why, we have the hardest time imaginable loving the more obvious and, dare one say, more ordinary objects of love: our friends and family, our country and world, our God and Saviour. How can it be that we should be commanded to love those that have set their faces, even their hearts, and souls and bodies against us? Yet, the demands of the Gospel are precisely impossible because our ordinary loves are equally impossible. They are all the places of our enmity, too.
Our enemies, after all, are rarely far-off and faceless. They are frequently only too close at hand. Their faces are only too often mirrored by our own. It is we who are at enmity with ourselves, with one another and with God. It is no good pretending that our hearts are not touched by such enmities when our hearts are precisely the places of enmity. But it is precisely in the face of these enmities - these animosities in the soul - that we are bidden, indeed, commanded to love.
The demands of the Gospel are just so radical because they take us to the root of all love without which we cannot love. They take us to the root from which we must learn to love. And that is why Jesus can demand such impossibly high standards of perfection for our lives - because he takes us to the root of all love which must blossom into the perfection of fruitfulness in our lives.
The command to love our enemies is not just an heightened expectation, something more added on, an optional extra, as it were. To the contrary, it belongs to love’s very nature. It is where love most shows itself to be love; where love shows itself to be most free; where love shows itself to be most perfect and complete. For as the Epistle reminds us, “love your enemies” takes us to the Cross as the place of death and life; “love your enemies” recalls us to our baptism by which we are identified with Christ in his Cross-given grace for us. This radical love is nothing less than Christ’s love in us. What is impossible for us on our own account is made possible in us. “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
But what does “love your enemies” mean? It does not mean that your love has bent them to your will for them. Quite the contrary, the radical meaning of this Gospel is that the enmities remain. The oppositions may be the very conditions in which love acts and moves.
Love here does not require or even seek any reward. It does not depend upon any sort of reciprocation, any motion of love in return. Love does not depend upon anything outside itself.
“Love your enemies” - they may still be your enemies; “do good to them which hate you” - their hatred for you may still remain; “bless them which curse you” - their curses in voice and glare may still darken the air; and “pray for them which despitefully use you” - their abuse of your good will may still continue. It is precisely in the face of these given conditions of animosity and enmity that we are to love, to do good, to bless, and, above all, to pray.
How is this impossible love possible? Because Christianity in its essence teaches what no other religion teaches or knows, namely, our hatred of the good, man’s willful antagonism against God. The will to nothingness - that much vaunted and celebrated concept of existentialism in its many guises and disguises - is simply a known truth of the Gospel. Christianity, we may say, brings to light the full evil of man. Yet, this is the Good News because it is in the face of this hatred of God that the absolute power of God’s love is made known in Jesus Christ. “God commended his love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us”. As G.K. Chesterton wryly observed:
There are many who will smile at the saying; but it is profoundly true to say, that the glad good news
brought by the Gospel was the news of original sin.
Jesus Christ loves us in the face of our hatred of him. Our hatred of God is visited upon him visibly and horribly at Calvary, but there, too, he shows us that God’s love is greater than our hatred. The place of hatred is, more importantly, the meeting-place of lovers. And insofar as he is not only true God but true man, he shows us that the power of love belongs to human perfection - to our truth in love as distinct from the lies of our hatreds which diminish and demean us.
The Cross is the possibility of this impossible love for us in our lives. The command to love your enemies simply voices what is seen on the Cross. But what does it mean practically, as it were?
“Love your enemies” means to acknowledge them to God in the desire for his good will towards them. In acknowledging them to God, we place them beyond the dark terrors of our hearts and the deep evil in our souls. We place them and ourselves in the care of God who has declared his friendship towards us even in the face of our enmity. There can be no greater love than this and, yet, it can be none other than love’s own nature, its truth, its freedom and its power. It is commanded to be ours.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies”
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church/Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne