The sixth antithesis may be the most challenging of them all. “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, that you may be children of your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:43-45). The parable of the Good Samaritan provides a nice parallel to this verse. It can be found in Luke 10:25-37. For in that parable Jesus shows our enemy and our neighbor to be one and the same.
A good examination of conscience would be to read the above verse, ponder who would come up for you as an enemy, and then read the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Whenever the word Samaritan comes up, drop the word Samaritan and insert the person or persons who came up for you in reading the first verse. When we have finished this exercise, then, may we pray for the person or persons defined by us as our enemy, for if we only love those who love us, what makes us any different than anyone else? If we are to be disciples of Jesus, if we are to be children of our heavenly Father, we are not only to love those who love us, but we are to also love our enemies. We are to love those for whom there is little chance of being loved in return.
Jesus offers us the way to be able to accomplish this seemingly impossible feat of loving our enemies as follows: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). We are able to love our enemy as ourselves by being perfect. This is not much help unless we understand that the English word used here is translated from the Greek word telios, which means complete, whole, to reach one’s goal or purpose in life. As a Christian our end goal, our purpose, our fundamental option, is to be in full communion with God our Father, who is Love. God the Father is not just loving, not just a lover, but the very embodiment of Love. God is Love.
God as the embodiment of Love, “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:45). We strive in our life to attain the end goal of being perfected by Jesus the Christ, when we, through an act of our will, allow ourselves to become transformed into becoming agents of his love. The most challenging of enemies is facing the enemy within. To love as God loves, we are to follow the words and actions of Jesus and the prophets. This means speaking truth to power, using our access and means to advocate for the voiceless, or comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. This means calling sin, sin, but doing so without falling into sinning ourselves. Calling out hate, with hate, we will only contribute to more hate.
Each day we are given a choice to make. We can choose to embrace our fear, seek revenge, dig in our heels and embrace our ego, react in kind to negativity and/or remain indifferent to the suffering in our midst. We may refuse to love our enemies, we may withdraw our love, but know when we do so, we contribute to the condition of sin, polarization, violence, and dehumanization that plagues our culture, nation, and our world.
We can choose instead to live out our inheritance as children of God and assist Jesus in ushering in the reign of our Father’s kingdom. To do so, we must acknowledge that our telios, our completion, the end goal of that which we seek, is to embody the love of God in our thoughts, words, and interactions with each other, even those we would consider our enemies.
We can choose to practice today’s Gospel by defusing the power of hate by loving our enemies and being perfected by Jesus the Christ. We can choose to align ourselves with the will of his Father and collaborate with the Holy Spirit to be agents and models of love and forgiveness in our realm of influence. We can choose to love today, person to person, brother to brother, sister to sister, enemy to enemy.
Let us pray, provide support and understanding, while at the same time hold up mirrors to appeal to the consciences of those who would seek to harm, persecute, demean and dehumanize us and others. We need to refuse to lower ourselves into the darkness of fear and hate, and instead disarm our enemies with the light of Jesus as we will the good of and pray for those who contemplate, participate, and perpetuate violence. In this way, we all may be transformed and healed, channeling our energies instead to work for justice, mercy and peace.
Photo: Pope St. John Paul II met, prayed with, and forgave Mehmet Ali Agca at Rebibbia prison on December 27, 1983 for shooting him and attempting to kill him on May 13, 1981. ARTURO MARI/AFP/Getty Images