Jesus said to his disciples: “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).
Certainly, this is as hard of a teaching as any of us have ever heard, yet this is the path to peace. Peace that is not just an absence of violence but a peace that is grounded in mutual respect and unity. No matter where we might look, there are very few examples or models for us to see this Gospel being put into practice. We instead see a consistent engagement in rhetoric, language, and outright hostility that promotes division and polarization not only in through secular and political voices but those within the Church as well.
Nor do I believe in the temptation of the pendulum swing that would threaten to counter and go the other way, where what we think and say has the substance of milk toast, meaning, that we are so careful not to offend that we don’t share our ideas or what we truly believe. Staying away from hot button issues and the taboos of talking religion and politics is not a way to bring about peaceful coexistence nor solve important issues. Neither approach is helpful to mature growth.
Neither an overly aggressive nor a lukewarm engagement is what Jesus is presenting in today’s Gospel. Jesus is inviting us to proclaim what we think and believe but in our interactions with one another, the primary starting point is respecting the dignity of the other person. We can have a dialogue and disagree without it devolving into disparaging, demeaning and belittling attacks, shouting at and over people. We can agree to disagree, while still stating clearly what we believe, even boldly doing so, while at the same time being willing to listen to the others do the same. In this way, we each can be heard, we can exchange ideas, and quite possibly learn and grow from our encounter with one another.
We are able to have a constructive argument when we come to the table willing to love our “enemy” instead of making another person into a monster. We can clearly point out the actions of others that can even be abhorrent, and unconscionable without disparaging the person. Otherwise, if we meet hate with hate, violence with violence, darkness with darkness, we will only beget and increase that which we denounce. Jesus offers a different way, by loving, by willing the good of the other, we don’t have to even like the person but we can love the other as other. In so doing, we counter darkness with light, violence with nonviolent resistance, and hate with love.
Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., models for us who lived today’s Gospel by loving their enemies. Photo accessed from publicradiotulsa.org.