Andrew Tucker, Columbus, OH
What does it mean to have an enemy? Name some of the people, either individuals or communities, who could be considered enemies.
Love Your Enemies
The notion of enemies is all over the news. There’s military buildup at the Ukrainian border with Russia, making enemies of global neighbors. The annual battle with winter weather makes frozen precipitation and cold temperatures the enemies of our day-to-day lives. Many countries are enacting diplomatic boycotts of the Olympics, making enemies of athletes who often train together, regardless of their national origins.
What I’ve found fascinating are the stories of people whom we might consider enemies behaving rather friendly. Polls and interviews of young Ukrainians and Russians show hope for peace and shared prosperity. Despite the interruptions to our normal routines, people find ways to coexist with winter storms, including work-from-home strategies (less fun) and snow day activities (more fun). What struck me most of all was how the U.S.A.’s first medalist celebrated her loss.
Yes, you read that right. Julie Marino, a snowboarder from Connecticut, earned silver in the downhill snowboard event. She lost the gold medal to Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand. But rather than lament or sulk, Marino joined Australian bronze medalist Tess Coady in joyously hug-tackling Sadowski-Synott just after she took over 1st place. You can see that video and read more about the event here. Rather than see a loss to an enemy, something that global politics seems to make inevitable, Marino saw the achievement of a fellow competitor and the excellence of a fellow human.
Now, it’s obvious that enemies in war are different than the impersonal enemy of weather or the enemies we encounter via various games. What I find holy in the examples above is that it is possible to see those we consider enemies as something different, as more than a nemesis whom we must be overcome, but instead as siblings who deserves to thrive alongside us.
- Think back to the examples of your first “enemies.” Could you find ways to seek peace with them, to work and play alongside them, even to celebrate with them?
- What made those people enemies in the first place? Can that thing change?
Seventh Sunday After Epiphany
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
We rarely talk about love and enemies in the same sentence. Fortunately, Jesus makes us consider why love must be separate from those we consider enemies. In Luke 6, Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (verses 27b-28 of the NIV).
That’s not easy, in part because we’ve been taught to define enemies as entirely other and outside of our communities, as wholly separate from ourselves. That’s why certain military trainings use names to dehumanize the enemies. It’s easier to kill something you see as inhuman, and therefore, unlike you.
Of course, to view people we consider enemies as less than human is a lie. It’s a lie that makes our life easier, but not better.
When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, it is not an invitation to ignore the harm that they’ve caused. Jesus does not expect us to abide unchecked evil. After all, Jesus doesn’t say, “don’t have enemies.” Instead, Jesus tells us to change our behaviors and attitudes toward our enemies. Consider, for instance, what connects us to those we consider enemies. There are genetic connections in the simple fact that we share DNA and common ancestors. Even if we don’t like the differences, there is a tie which binds us. There are social connections; all require a safe place to live and a community with whom we can share life. And of course there are spiritual connections. All people are created in God’s image, and all creation—even snowstorms—is part of God’s handiwork.
In her book How to Have an Enemy, Rev. Melissa Florer-Bixler reminds readers that, to have an enemy, we must first admit that our enemies exist and that there are reasons that we have become enemies. Christians must take seriously Jesus’ call to love enemies by first recognizing them as people and as enemies. So, to love our enemies means we must come to understand our enemies. We must appreciate that they deserve to exist just as much as we deserve to exist and that their status as enemy does not make them less a part of God’s creation or less a sharer of God’s image.
Loving our enemies does not ignore the change we desire, nor does it ignore the real wrong they have done. Instead, loving our enemies seeks a change that can benefit us and them. Loving our enemies is like the Olympic snowboarders: it doesn’t view differences in achievement as loss, but instead as a part of a shared experience we can all celebrate. A necessary part of this is humility. We must recognize that what we once defined as victory may be a selfish mistreatment of our enemy. Mutual thriving, which allows for enemy love, demands change, not only of our enemies, but change of ourselves as well.
- How do you feel when Jesus tells us to love our enemies? Why do you feel that way?
- How might you have made yourself an enemy to others?
- Name some of the common ground that you share with your enemies. Describe what it feels like to admit that such similarities exist between you and your enemies.
- Often, people who are imprisoned are considered enemies of their victims and of society more broadly. Some ministries, like Cincinnati’s Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, as well as the American Friends Service Committee, have projects to write holiday cards to people in prison. These anonymous cards speak a word of love to people that many view as enemies. Connect with these or one of your local social service agencies to explore how your group might bless prisoners in your area.
- Escape rooms can be a fun way to show that games don’t have to create enemies or losers. If there’s not one near you, or the cost is prohibitive, check out this list of free DIY escape room resources. After the game, talk about how it’s a different kind of fun to play and win together rather than try to defeat one another. Use that as an introduction to a discussion about how we can create enemies in life by choosing to “play the game” of the status quo that creates insiders and outsiders, winners and losers, friends and enemies.
Compassionate Creator, you do not create us for violence, but for peace. You create us, not for defeat or loss, but for mutual thriving. Remind us of your purposes when we look at our enemies. Empower us to confront the evils done in word and in deed, by others and by ourselves. Remind us that to love an enemy is to admit that enemy also reflects your holy image, even when it is desperately difficult to recognize. We pray this all in the name of the image of the invisible God, Jesus Chris. Amen.