“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….” Matthew 5:44)
It is a huge challenge to love our enemies and puts all of us in a completely new arena, a Christian world! There’s no way we can do it without Christ. Why? It’s not easy to love our enemies because it is contrary to what’s going on in our world. Most importantly, we all have a human tendency to fight back and retaliate, like what the gospel highlighted: ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ animal-like tendency. So, we can only love our enemies when we embrace the Christian values.
Two farmers, John and James, were good friends until a dispute arose between them over a piece of land. Unable to settle the issue among themselves they went to court over it. The court decided in favor of John. James was bitter and put poison in John’s well, not a fatal dose but enough to give an obnoxious taste. John was very angry. His neighbors heard about it. Some refused to get involved. But others were supportive and declared that James should be made to pay for what he had done. John was about to go by night and poison James’ well when a stranger arrived at his house. On hearing the story, the stranger agreed that it was a pretty nasty situation, but he would not agree with retaliation. “Poison is not a thing to be played around with” he declared. “I’ve a better idea. I’ll show you in the morning.” His idea was to clean the well. He offered to help. Reluctantly John agreed. It was a messy business and took them two whole days. After they ran fresh water several times the stranger took a cup of water and declared it was clean. John also drank but insisted he could still taste the poison. To which the stranger replied, “Take it from me. The water is perfect. But you will continue to taste the poison till you forgive your neighbor. You got rid of the poison in the well, but not the poison in your mind and heart.” That evening John went over to his neighbor and made his peace with him. When he came back he tasted the water and this time it tasted good. (Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’)
In the First Reading from the Book of Leviticus, the Lord commanded Moses to tell the Israelite community to “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy. You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.” (Leviticus 19:1-2) In the Second Reading from his first Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminded the community of Corinth that their community was formed by God and they were temples of God. The reminder was made when the community of Corinth was plagued by dissensions and rivalries.
It is in God’s name and purpose that we care for one another, and Christ calls us to love not just our friends but our enemies as well. Because of this call, we discipline our human tendencies to be able to love our enemies.
One day a native American was talking to his grandson about the atrocities that happened in New York city on September 11, 2001. Suddenly the grandson asked, “Grandpa, how do you feel about that atrocity?” “I feel as if there are two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is angry, vengeful and violent. The other is loving, forgiving and compassionate,” he answered. “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart? The grandson asked. “The one I feed.” Jesus says to us, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” He never said that we would have no enemies – there is no lack of realism here. But he offers us a new way of dealing with our enemies. The injunction ‘Love your enemies’ is a radical rejection of violence. (Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’)