“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, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven . . . Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” — Matthew 5:43-45a, 48
When I think of people who might be considered my ‘enemies,’ in short order I come up with a number of individuals whom I don’t like very much at all. I don’t trust these people. They’ve hurt me. They have what I consider to be deep-set problems that make me want to avoid them whenever I can.
When I review my ‘enemies list,’ I realize that they all share similar characteristics: they are rigid, controlling, self-centered people who don’t hesitate to hurt you in order to get their way. It’s telling that they all seem to be fairly accomplished individuals, and it goes without saying that not only do I resent them, I’m offended by their success, as well!
One person I find annoying just because he could be so good with people if only he didn’t have to look out for himself all the time and insist on getting his own way whenever he can. Another insufferable ‘enemy’ is someone who brims with bluster and self-puffery. She projects an image that some folks find attractive, but mostly she’s all about her own success. And there is that master of manipulation who makes his way by charming, flattering and cajoling those around him. People seem to enjoy being taken in by him, which irritates me all the more!
It’s easy for me to write vividly about my ‘enemies’ because I experience them so viscerally. I read what I’ve written here and know that I come off sounding like a bitter, disgruntled, rivalrous person. My reaction is to blame even my unattractive self on these ‘enemies’: just being around them would turn anyone into a bundle of resentments!
Still, I know I’m right in my estimation of these people. Others have experienced them in similar ways and confirm my critical assessments. Knowing I’m right about how I see these folks, I take refuge in these strong opinions. Indeed, I find a kind of safety in having settled the matter altogether, thus keeping all my ‘enemies’ for the foreseeable future.
I’m fine with considering these cases closed; but, as I read today, that’s not quite good enough for Jesus. “Love your enemies,” he says. But I say, “What about my well-considered evaluations of these hurtful folks?” And then it hits me: Jesus is not telling me to give up on my critical opinions. He’s asking me to add a perspective on these problematic people, to adopt a point of view that he shares with his Father.
Jesus asks that I be ‘perfect’ in these matters, perfect in the biblical sense which has little to do with moral striving. Instead, to be ‘perfect’ here means to be full, to be complete, to be all that I’m intended to be. To be ‘perfect’ with respect to my enemies means to add love to my picture of these people lest it be completely distorted by my hurt, resentment and self-righteousness.
‘Yes,’ Jesus teaches, ‘your enemies may well be hurtful, even deplorable characters, but don’t let your reaction to them become so narrowed that you become entrapped by your own rancor and imprisoned by your own jealousy. Add love to the intense mix of feelings you have for your enemies and see where that might lead you. After all, my Father loves all, even your enemies, and also you, mired as you are in your own brooding animosity. Hold on to your opinions if you must, but temper them always with love. Don’t let your enemies imprison you in resentment.’
And so I pray:
Lord, help me with the difficult people in my life. Even as I hold on to my opinions help me not to be held up by them. I can so easily build myself a prison with the iron bars of my own bitterness. Keep me from being so right that I am wrong. Save me from the too-narrow view. Open me up that I might see the full picture revealed only by love, by your love for me and for all. Help me to love my irksome enemies and find in them, through you, a blessing after all. Amen.
Edward R. Dufresne © 2014