By Nathan Maurer
What does it mean to really love our enemies? This is a line that gets tossed around quite often in Christian circles, but is rarely examined. In my own case, there is a temptation to justify myself by thinking “But Jesus can’t possibly mean THAT person/group/politician etc.” We tend to reduce “loving our enemies” to the forgiveness of small slights, like allowing our neighbor some grace for parking in the wrong place or not being mad at our spouse for snoring.
But the truth of this teaching is radical, and it is ultimately the teaching that led Jesus to his own death. St. Paul tells us that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Even our smallest sins, because they go against God’s loving plan for us, make us “enemies” of God. And yet Christ loves us so much that he died to make us, his enemies, into his friends. He is constantly offering us opportunities through the sacraments to be reconciled with Him. How can we do the same for others?
So much of our modern conversation, especially on social media and regarding politics, is focused on dividing people up into groups that we agree with and disagree with. This tribalism is an old instinct of our fallen human nature, a mistrust of those who are different or with whom we disagree, and a propensity to surround ourselves with people who will affirm us in all of our choices. We don’t like to be challenged, and we certainly do not like to feel unsafe in our worldviews. The issue with this is that it works against Christ’s mission to unite humanity with Himself, and through that union for us to be united with one another as brothers and sisters.
That is certainly not to say that we must agree with everyone or allow everyone to have influence over us. Jesus does not call us to be doormats. But he does ask us in today’s Gospel to “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”. The next time you see a politician, bumper sticker, or twitter post that you don’t agree with, rather than letting your mind rush to an insult, ask for the grace to pray for that person and desire what is good for them. Trust me, this feels like a little death, because it is. But it is a participation in the way that God loves that person, and that has immense power. That person may very well remain your “enemy”, whether in their actions, personality, or ideology. But Christ calls us to choose love over hatred. And this divine love is the only force that can really undo evil in the world.