Love your enemies. Love your enemies? It’s one of the more apparently batty statements that Jesus made, isn’t it? I mean, surely we should batter our enemies? When an enemy comes at you with an army, or a suicide bomb, or a nuclear missile, loving him isn’t going to be much of a defence is it?
It’s just this kind of namby-pamby rhetoric from Jesus that gives religion a bad name, isn’t it? Christians are so easily dismissed by a population who lived through the rise of Nazism, or who watched the Twin Towers fall. People say to themselves ‘why on earth would I follow a religion which has such an impractical message at its core. Love your enemies? Preposterous!
But to dismiss Jesus’ teaching so contemptuously would be unwise. History is full of examples in which conflict has ultimately been solved by Love. The history of Europe is just such an example.
After the First World War, the Allies imposed punitive sanctions on Germany. War reparations were demanded from the German people, and as a result, their economy went into freefall. The Allies effectively continued to ‘hate’ their enemy, even after the Armistice was signed. The result of this hate-filled demand for retribution led directly to the rise of Adolf Hitler. He was able to tap into the poverty of the German people, and their festering resentment against the Allies, to promise a rise to greatness. He promised to ‘make his country great again’ (where have we heard that phrase recently?).
After the Second World War, the victorious Allies realised that punishing Germany again – continuing the hate – would not achieve the aim of lasting peace. Instead, the Marshall Plan was devised – by which the United States donated the equivalent of 5% of its gross domestic product to the rebuilding of the shattered cities and lives of Europe – including what was then West Germany. Whilst other political issues were also at play – such as the pushing back of communism – essentially the Marshall Plan was a practical attempt to ‘love enemies’, and to ‘do good to those that have hurt us’. The end result was the creation of NATO, and ultimately the European Union, which has preserved peace and fostered co-operation for over half a century.
Perhaps Jesus wasn’t such a crackpot after all?
And Jesus’ advice works on an individual level too. How often do we hear stories of neighbour going to war with neighbour? It’s usually over some trivial matter – at least at first. I know people who have fallen out over paint colours, or the mis-placing of a boundary marker, or the cutting down of a tree. Hatred and enmity builds in these circumstances, as each side justifies their own bad behaviour towards the other. Whole families can get drawn into such disputes…and sometimes whole communities.
Into such arguments, the voice of Jesus cries out. ‘Love your enemy!’ he pleads. For he knows that the ONLY answer to the healing of such disputes is love.
But let no-one imagine that this is namby-pamby easy stuff to do. It’s often much easier to roll with the hate…however much stress that induces. It’s in our human nature to be compelled by conflict, motivated by it, energised by it. Anyone who has ever found themselves in the middle of a legal case will know exactly what I mean. Seeking the defeat of one’s enemy is both stressful and exhilarating – all at the same time.
But it takes a truly courageous person to choose the path of love. The Loving path doesn’t seek to win. In the words of St Paul from 1 Corinthians 13, the path of love is patient and kind. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. It always hopes. It always perseveres. It always seeks the good of the other. And it’s hard work.
Which is why we should all pray, constantly, for the strength, the wisdom, the fortitude and the commitment to Love our enemies.