“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34)
Love our neighbor. Love our enemies. Love as Christ loved us. As often as we hear these commandments in scripture, how often do we truly take these words to heart? It is easy to love those who love us in return. But that is not enough. For as the Lord says:
“For 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 do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” (Luke 6:32-35)
That is certainly a tall order to fill. The love of Christ is so amazing and so far beyond our comprehension, how can we ever hope to extend that same love to others…especially to our enemies?
It is hard to think of ways to love an enemy. Whether it is someone who has spoken unkindly to you, someone who has hurt you or your family on a personal level, or someone who has caused widespread pain, war, terror, and despair, the call is still the same. Watch the news and take a look at some of the worst criminals we have in our world today. How in the world do we apply this teaching to them?
A line from one of my favorite musicals, Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim, goes like this, “Someone is on your side, our side…someone else is not. While we’re seeing our side maybe we forgot they are not alone. No one is alone.” We need to see our enemies from the other side. This is not to say we need to see the reasons behind the act or that we should try to see some justification for it. No. Rather, we need to remember that they are not alone and try to see this person through the eyes of someone who has loved them.
Think of an enemy in your life, be it a personal enemy or a national or even international criminal. Now try to see that person through the eyes of their family or friends. Someone rocked them to sleep, put bandages on boo-boos, comforted them from nightmares. Someone, be it a family member, friends, or teacher, taught this person to tie their shoes, to count to ten, to read, to write. This person, this enemy, is not alone. Imagine the grief of a mother who sees a tragedy on the news and learns it is because of her child. How her heart must break! In looking at our enemies from this other side, we see this person not as an abstract idea, but truly as a person caught in sin and despair. Even in the most unfortunate of situations in which a person grows up without that love in their life, surrounded by dire circumstance and as a result turns to sinful ways, someone still loves them. God loves them. God created each and every one of us in His very own image. God, who created everything in pure goodness, loves us all. Because even though His hearts bleeds for the sins we commit, He knows our potential to be good. He knows that we are more than poor choices, than hateful words, than sinful actions. How great His pain must be to watch His children turn away and choose evil over His light. But despite His pain, He still loves us all.
This is how we are called to love each other. Not to approve of their actions. Not to love their sins. But to love them for the person God intended them to be, for the person they could still become. It is never too late for anyone to turn to God. By focusing on the sins of a person rather than the goodness deep within them, we are, in essence, choosing to focus on evil rather than good. God knows that because there is sin in the world and because of our human nature, we will have enemies. This is precisely why he tells us to love them. God wants nothing more than for all His children to return home to Him someday. How can we then, as Christians, not want the same? We are called to love our enemies for even they are children of the Lord. We are called to see them through the eyes of Christ, as people created in God’s image who have gone astray. To pray for them that they will change their ways and be reunited with God the Father. We are called to stand up to evil, to remain firm in our faith, and to share the truth of Christ with those around us. To love one another as Christ loved us.