For the 2018 Lenten Journey, I am excited to once again be creatively collaborating with Little Britain United Church. Each worship service and blog will be informed by a resource created by Matthew L. Kelly, who is currently in ministry at Christ United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tennessee, USA. I pray that this “Giving It Up” Lenten Journey proves of interest and nurtures the gift of this ongoing conversation with you seekers and readers, who continue to graciously extend trust by engaging with A Deacon’s Musing blog.
Love Your Enemies
43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
“Giving Up Enemies:” a light and easy topic to explore from the vantage of faith. Even easier from the Christian tradition’s role in sometimes modelling the very opposite of what the ministry we have inherited from Jesus taught … Okay yes, I am being somewhat (well a lot) sarcastic. This might be because I was, initially, unsure what to write for this week’s fourth Lenten blog.
At first, I was thinking I would continue from the previous blog – Giving Up Superiority. I was considering that I could more fully explore the topic that the cynicism above touches upon. In particular, how the position of privilege too often creates the binaries of us and them. The ‘them’ thus becomes ‘enemies’ and recognising the systemic nature of this snake-eating-its-tail conundrum felt like a possible musing avenue …
I was also reflecting upon some of the more traditional responses to the theme of enemies. The richness of personal experience often illustrates the vulnerability of enmity. The resulting anger highlights the difficulty of Jesus’ teaching to “turn the other cheek,” even millennia later. Letting go of the reaction to defend and protect is difficult as it can feel quite contrary to our nature.
The tension is only further increased when we throw in the ideal of forgiveness. It is both a tenet of the Christian inheritance and also a shining example of the misuse of those who have had privilege to impose “right thinking” upon those who have not. One need only think about the use of forgiveness to silence women, who have experienced abuse, to recognise the difficult parts of human history that have wrestled with authentically transmitting Jesus’ legacy into the future.
With these two possible paths before me, I was still not certain. Though they both were indeed appropriate possibilities, it felt like something was missing. So, when in doubt, I returned to the text itself. When I read this, from the Message’s translation of the Matthew passage –
– I had an inkling of where to go …
Matthew’s challenge, builds from this summation: “If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus?” What does this mean? Well, let me share my reaction to further our conversation.
When I first began to work with Indigenous Elders in Restorative Justice, one mirthful, though somewhat bellicose, person shared that every moment, every experience, is a potential learning moment. He went on to say, that if we want to grow and learn, it is sometimes the turbulent and hardest experiences that provide the richest insight and wisdom. But, if we want to dig deep, we may have to let go of our own stuff. Otherwise, if we simply surround ourselves with the “loveable,” we may very well simply create what we might now call an “echo chamber.”
I do not think that – in any way – the Elder was rationalising or justifying hurt experienced or harm caused as ordained or required. Rather, I believe that this teaching was and is about our intention. If, as “kingdom subjects” we are to “live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward [us]” then our relationships with our enemies are the ultimate plumb-line.
This position or orientation, if you will, feels exciting, despite it being counter-intuitive. Yet that seems to be a hallmark for endeavouring to be a Christ-follower. Whether our enemy is standing before us threatening violence or is an internal habit or voice that is no less dangerous, what might happen if we understand them as presenting opportunity to learn to be Love? What if courage is the grace to be curious, even if threatened? What if this act of generosity is a step toward forgiveness? What if in the not forgetting, we took a moment to consider the hurts and harms our enemy has experienced up until that teaching moment?
I’m not sure – at the end of this blog – whether there is a conclusion … well, actually, there isn’t. But I am left with the tantalising insight waiting to emerge that is contained in the phrase “kingdom subject.”
We live in a time and place that makes clear having enemies is normal and that our instinct to “punch-back” and “double-down” is what is demanded of us. But for me, as someone who stumbles and keeps trying to follow this path with Jesus, I’ve got to admit trying to be a “kingdom subject” feels more authentic.
I love the invitation to “live generously and graciously toward others,” even if that means danger might be present. Finally – for the moment – I am pausing this musing by recognising this is not an individual journey, but one into which we are all invited. If we can be generous and gracious to ourselves, what might tomorrow look like when meet those whom we might call the Other or the Enemy?