As I read today’s gospel passage I was reminded of a post I saw online. It said, “Love your enemies and you won’t have any.” Jesus’ line today goes a little more like this, “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”. So the question I want to raise is, “If you follow Christ’s instruction, does an absence of enemies naturally and necessarily follow? Is there possibly a bigger purpose for why we love our enemies?”
When the quote “Love your enemies and you won’t have any” is viewed from our personal perspectives then yes, it is true. It follows naturally and necessarily that if I love someone that I view as an enemy I will cease to view this person as an enemy. This interpretation says nothing about our actual relationship. He or she might have assumed we were always friends, or might still regard us as enemies. This subjective interpretation is limited as it can only be concerned with one party at a time and says more about perception than reconciliation.
If that is the subjective interpretation, what about the objective? This would be more concerned more with reconciliation than perception. We would be hard-pressed to say that “Love your enemies and you won’t have any” is absolutely true from this perspective. Don’t get me wrong, it can work! But, it does not naturally and necessarily follow that if I love someone there will no longer be enmity in our relationship. I know this sounds a little bleak, but I’m drawing from the witness of Incarnate Love. Jesus loved all of his enemies, but it did not follow that everyone who wanted Him dead changed their mind.
If loving our enemies doesn’t necessarily turn our enemies’ hearts, then what is the point? It turns our hearts. While the subjective interpretation is limited, it is still valid. We need God’s grace to heal our hearts and stem the flow of enmity and hatred for which we are responsible! But, beyond us, loving our enemies bears witness to Our Father.
Jesus makes this act of witness clear in the following lines, “love your enemies … that you may be children of your heavenly Father … And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that?” When we love our enemies, there is a peculiarness that points beyond us. It is a peculiarness that comes from us living like the Son. To live a life like the Son is to live a life revealing the Father. Thus, conversion of our enemies or not, we love them so that they can know whose we are. We are children of God. We hope that as we bear witness to whose we are, by our peculiar love, in the face of enmity, those around us can respond like the centurion that stood at the foot of the cross confessing that Jesus was truly the Son of God.