Loving Your Enemies
Who are your enemies? Jesus clearly tells us to love them, but before we figure out how to do that we need to figure out who our enemies are. Who do you think of when you hear the word “enemy”?
Global enemies? eg “Axis of evil,” Nazism, Al Qaeda
National enemies? eg political opponents, divisive voices and movements
Personal enemies? eg a sexual abuser, a divorced partner, a workplace antagonist
On Friday I went to see the play Cottagers and Indians by Drew Hayden Taylor. It’s a two-person play with cottage owner Maureen Poole in pitted battle against indigenous resident and wild rice sower/harvester Arthur Copper. They both love the lake and consider it home, but Maureen is furious that Arthur is clogging up its waters with wild rice. As they argue to and fro on stage it becomes clear that the issue is a microcosm of larger issues between indigenous peoples and Canadian settlers. Anger and resentment abound, as they hold to their opposing viewpoints.
Who are your enemies? Who has hurt you, vented anger or criticism at you, aroused dislike or hatred in you? Examining where the hard knots of hatred or fear are in us will lead to greater understanding about who we hold as enemies and how we hold them before God.
This is serious stuff: often friendship and reconciliation are impossible. Some enemies have to be opposed and blocked consistently, so their destructive behaviour doesn’t wreak havoc.
But Jesus says if we’re followers of his, we have to love, have agape for, our enemies. Not like them, not approve of them, not collude with them, but have agape them – wish well for them, pray for them, refuse to retaliate and surrender to evil by acting as our enemies act.
In the play a softening comes through the characters’ mutual experiences of loss: Maureen’s husband dies, and Arthur tells her that when he heard about that he made a tobacco offering and remembered her husband in his daily prayers. (“Pray for those who abuse you,” said Jesus.) He goes on to tell Maureen that his beloved daughter died of diabetes (exacerbated by poor diet, hence Arthur’s determination to cultivate wild rice and help his people return to a more traditional, healthy diet) and Maureen’s heart goes out to him. Agape enters.
The Christian practice of agape for our enemies is hard, very hard. But it transforms us, and it can transform the world. It’s not about being soft or weak: it may involve tough speaking out and active resistance against evil. But it refuses to use the tools of evil and hate in return.
Loving your enemies frees you from the prison of anger, resentment, toxic bitterness.
Nelson Mandela still opposed the politics of apartheid when he was released from 27 years in jail, but he said this:
“As I walked out the door [of my prison cell] toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Learning to have agape for our enemies will set us free, and bring a little more goodness into the world, step by step and drop by drop. Amen.