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 dehumanization, division, contempt, hatred, and vileness. These voices not only rise in our secular and political discourse but also there is a growing din 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 to avoid conflict. 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 bland tolerance of 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, belittling attacks, and shouting at and over people. We can agree to disagree, while still stating clearly what we believe, even boldly and passionately doing so, while at the same time being willing to listen and allow 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 need to learn again that it is truly possible to engage in a constructive argument. We begin to do so when we are willing to recognize our interconnectedness and our common dignity. We can love our “enemy” by choosing no longer to make another person into a monster.
We can clearly point out the actions of others that are abhorrent and unconscionable, hold them accountable, yet 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 in today’s Gospel and one not many of us are willing to follow. Jesus is calling us to love one another as he loves each and every one of us. Love is no mere emotion or sentiment but an intent to will the good of each other, even and especially when there is some attribute that we do not like about a person.
If we want to see a change in our divisive and polarized time, we need to be willing to encounter one another, one person at a time, sit down, talk, and listen, and love one another. Easy, no, possible, yes, when we are willing to allow God to open our hearts and minds to see each other as he sees us.