“Mutual Love is nothing special. It only means repaying good with good. But love of our enemy is not love as repayment; it is prevenient and creative love. Anyone who repays evil with good is truly free.” – Juergen Moltmann
If there is any single, one thing that I could mark as the turning point in my life, it was a time in college when I finally decided that loving my enemies was not only attainable but essential, if not the cornerstone of christian practice.
I sat there reading
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
I love especially “To you who are listening.”
“Was I listening?” I wondered.
This is Jesus, as remembered by Luke in the 6th chapter of his gospel narrative.
I was at a time in my life in which I was experiencing great dichotomy, great tension within myself. So much of what I was trying to work into my life from studying the wisdom teachings of Jesus had no room for expression in my life.
I read this above passage for example, over and over again while training to become an artillery officer in the US Army at West Point.
It felt clear to me that in the gospel stories, I was much more like the hypocritical religious leaders and Romans than like Jesus. Yet, so much of my religious life at West Point revolved around the affirmation of our chosen profession and lifestyle.
To say I was confused would be an understatement. In this time, I decided to just go for it, to just run with it. I thought, “what if this is actually as clear and simple as it seems, but it’s just really hard?”
So I did what any philosophy student does when they’re confused, I wrote an essay.
It was titled, “The Ethic of Love.”
In the midst of a semester on ethics it became clear that if you really believed what Jesus taught, it would naturally manifest itself in something like an ethic, a way to live one’s life.
I fleshed it out as best I could and sat dumbfounded as I realized that I was a hypocrite of hypocrites.
I was the furthest thing from loving my enemy (let alone my neighbor, or myself.)
Over the course of the next few years I would walk down the lonely road of quiet dissent, deciding to leave the Army as a conscientious objector. And along the way I found out that the reason I was such a hypocrite for so long was because hypocrisy had been normalized. And, to question the status quo was sinful, prideful, or unpatriotic.
Ironically, the very same people who were obsessed with a fundamental adherence to the scriptures on every other point (especially where we get to marginalize people like women and our LGBTQ family) somehow were alright killing others, so long as they did it for the government or those in “authority.” Such killing is orthodox, after all.
But I wondered if maybe loving my enemies is simple, and maybe it is attainable. Maybe choosing to obey the law of love over that of the land, that of social convention is a worthy decision. Just really difficult.
Maybe choosing to side with the oppressed and love the oppressor means we need to identify first with a helpless refugee baby and executed prisoner before we identify with power, influence, and social status.
When I consider the life and example of Jesus, I find it off-putting that his modern day followers are seeking so hard to change the world through seats of power.
And I wondered, instead of sacrificing my creativity at the altar of economy, injustice, or war, like Jurgen says above, what if I can use my creative energy to find new ways to love those who hate me, to return evil with good, to give to all who ask.
That sounds like a place I’d like to visit.