This week the Gospel reading holds one of the hardest sayings of Jesus. At least for me.
Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
This one is hard not so much because I have a lot of clearly defined enemies. Although I suppose I do have a few. And no doubt, I’ve made some.
It must be hard for lots of folks. You don’t hear it preached much. Or taught with enthusiasm.
I mean. Loving your enemies?
Pray for them. Like in hopes they’ll change?
Oh not exactly.
Like in hopes I’ll change?
That might be getting closer to it.
Back up for a minute. I do think Jesus meant real other people who are openly hostile to one another.
And I think we can’t ignore the possibility that this saying is also about our internal enemies.
I don’t know about you but most of the time my biggest enemies aren’t out there but in here.
The persecutions don’t begin somewhere else, but inside my own heart and mind.
And it seems to me . . .
that loving enemies out there will finally be impossible unless I can find a way to make friends with the enemies in here.
In psychoanalyic theories (where I spend a fair amount of my academic energy) the notion of splitting off a hated piece of the self and sending it out into the world to hate it out there is understood to be a common defense against vulnerability.
It is a defense which has been around for a very long time . . . as long as people have felt vulnerable, afraid and in need of protecting themselves.
Ah yes, now that starts to make some sense in light of what Jesus is saying.
By loving our enemies we are moving closer to loving ourselves as well. The two things are intimately tied up in more ways than we can fully comprehend.
What if instead of focusing only on the frightening or dangerous others out there, we began our prayers asking mercy for the ways we hate, and feel hated from the inside? Or simply sit in silence and let those feelings rise up from the inside. Then gently let them go. This is at the heart of contemplative practices of prayer.
Love my enemies. Love yours. Start with the ones that hide or rage in our own hearts. Only with that practiced sort of love might we ever be able to find room in our hearts for other enemies who live out there.
God help us.