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 us as an enemy, and then read the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Whenever the word Samaritan comes up, we drop the word Samaritan and insert the person or persons who came up for us. 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: “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 Love. God is Love.
God as 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.
Each day we are given a choice. We can choose to deny our fear, seek revenge, dig in our heels, 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 that when we do so, we contribute to the condition of separation, polarization, violence, and dehumanization that plagues our communities, nation, and our world.
We can choose instead to live out our inheritance as children of God and assist Jesus in the ushering in of the reign of our Father’s kingdom. This means speaking truth to power, using our access and means to advocate for the voiceless, or comforting the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. This begins by calling out hatred within ourselves, so as not to meet hate with hate, for in doing so we will only contribute to more hate.
We are at our best when we are willing to be perfected by Jesus, brought into alignment with his Father’s will, and collaborate with the love of the Holy Spirit so as to be agents and models of love, mercy, forgiveness, and justice in our realm of influence. By loving our enemies, we will help to diffuse the power of hate.
As we embrace instead of denying our fear it can become a valuable ally, like purifying fire that can be channeled and directed for healing ourselves and others. By continuing to be open to being healed and transformed, we can disarm by willing the good of and praying for those who contemplate, participate in, and perpetuate division, hatred, racism, and violence in all its forms. By following this path, our enemies can become our brothers and sisters.
Photo: Pope St. John Paul II met, prayed with, and forgave Mehmet Ali Agca at Rebibbia prison on December 27, 1983, for shooting and attempting to kill him on May 13, 1981. ARTURO MARI/AFP/Getty Images