Loving Enemies, right here, right now
Do you have enemies? Are there people you can’t stand because they have caused you great harm? Most of us might have a short list of enemies: a few politicians, a high school basketball coach, the girl who dumped you in college.
And then there is the universal list: the Russians, abortionists, ISIS… Overall, most of us don’t have many enemies, and the ones we have, we avoid. Is it possible that our list is longer, we just don’t see with the eyes of the Kingdom of God? Usually, when Jesus is teaching, He speaks about things that are up close and personal. You can be sure that is the case when He says, “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
Recently, I heard Father David give a homily that caused me to think about the daily enemies that plague us. He gave the example of the person who steals your parking spot or the person who took forever in the grocery line. You know who they are, the everyday folks who are rude, thoughtless, and self-centered. They hurt us and don’t care. Could it be that these are the real enemies that Jesus is asking us to love?
Remember, Jesus gives us a clue by mentioning that it is easy to love those who love us back. The deeper challenge is to love the no-accounts who mean to hurt us, in fact, they are known to actually enjoy it. In a world where smart people are praised for giving it right back to these everyday enemies, we look like fools by returning abuse with kindness. This is our chance to be radical in a heavenly way. Jesus is talking MERCY.
In her book, “Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy,” Anne Lamott writes about living this kindness that we call mercy. She believes that only when we yield to the graced inclination to be kind to those who hurt us will we discover lasting peace. What an irrational idea: “in giving we receive…in dying we are born.” This is St. Francis of Assisi wisdom. The strange part is that it works! What Jesus taught, what St. Francis lived, and what Anne Lamott believes is the simple answer to peace of mind. At the root of genuine contentment is mercy.
Mercy is not so simple. Putting on an attitude of everyday mercy requires three things. First, we must look out for trouble. When an enemy appears, call it for what it is. Secondly, we must be humble enough to love these little enemies when we find them. That will mean putting aside self to consider the needs of the other. And thirdly, we must care for the scoundrels. We give up the parking place without a grudge. We forgive gossip without returning gossip. We walk away from the desire for revenge.
Jesus wants us to know that turning the other cheek is only the first step of bone deep mercy. A day doesn’t go by when there is invitation to practice mercy. We just miss it because we are so accustomed to ignoring it. What I am suggesting is living in an awareness of being kind and trusting in the goodness of others even when we know that they may mean us harm. A friend spoke of this lifestyle recently: An architect who works for a busy corporate firm, he had been burned many times by aggressive, nasty clients. He looked at me and said, “No matter what happens, I choose to be kind to everyone, no exceptions. Being kind is the only way I choose to live.” What I see in him is deep and absolute peace with himself. His kindness reaps calm and goodness within and without.
The Gospel is pulling no punches. We are mercy people. We are Christ to one another without qualification. The place we encounter the choice to act with kindness, gentleness, and mercy is right here. Your enemies live in your neighborhood, your workplace, your parish. What a surprise.