Friday, March 04, 2005

Love thine enemy

I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth not because he died, but because of how he lived and because of what he taught. The teachings of Jesus are powerful and revolutionary. It is hard to follow them, and it is precisely this difficulty that makes us humans want to interpret Jesus in ways that make him more palatable, easier to follow.

We humans are extremely creative. We can take any text, regardless of how precisely written it is, and interpret it any way we wish. And even when we have no "proof positive" to back up our interpretation, we can always rely on our backup plan... which is to say, "Well, it's just common sense!"

Probably the clearest, least confusing of Jesus' sayings is to love thine enemy.

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39)...Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5:38-44) "

If we truly implemented this incredibly difficult (seemingly impossible) practice, imagine what kind of a world we would have.

Obviously, there is a huge range of "practical problems" associated with loving, forgiving, not killing those who seek to harm you or those you love. Humankind has not been able to overcome these problems, and thus we have not come close to implementing the practice.

There have been a few famous individuals such as Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela who stand out as wonderful examples of adherents to the teaching. There have been many more less famous individuals who have quietly followed the teaching as well.

But the those who practice the teaching remain the exception, rather than the norm.

I would recommend that a good place for many of us to start to emulate Jesus on this point would be to at least pray regularly for our enemies. Pray that people like Osama Bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the leaders of Iran and North Korea will feel the grace of God.

In time perhaps, prayer will lead to thoughts of forgiveness and compassion and eventually to the practice of loving thine enemy. I can think of nothing more difficult, revolutionary, and world-transforming. The fact is that what we've been trying throughout history just doesn't work, and so at some point we have to decide to try the other approach... okay, "the other cheek".

In the short-term, while the world is being transformed, it will cost many of us our physical existence. Over the long-term, it will make us better human beings and truer followers of Jesus.

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