In the Old Testament, retaliating to someone who had inflicted pain unto a person was common. “Anyone who injures their neighbour is to be injured in the same manner: ‘’fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Lev.24:19-20). However Jesus in the New Testament is asking us to extend love to our enemy and persecutor. Anybody can show kindness and charity, when he hopes to gain something in return. We, who are Christian, who follow Christ, are called not to be content with such superficial charity.
At a first glance of the gospel, the words, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,” are insane and seemingly impossible, totally unrealistic and unattainable. Jesus is not telling us to be in love with our enemies.
The Greek verb which the gospel uses is “agapao” from which the noun “agape” comes. It is not the physical expression of love like those of lovers nor is it the love of close friends. It is rather a positive approach towards other people to whom you wish their well-being. It is a one-sided love where no return is expected. A love which is often rejected, a love most often ignored.
This is the same love that God has for us. Love without exception or expectations. This love is relentless, like the father in the story of the prodigal son waiting for his child to come home. The father continued to love his son even in his moments of debauchery and degradation. It is the forgiving love that Jesus has for the people who nailed him to the cross.
He prayed for them, for them to be forgiven and that they might come to realise what they were doing. In this sense, loving our enemies seems not only reasonable but the only way to move forward.
- How many times have you retaliated, when persecuted?
- Have you experienced forgiveness from someone unexpected before?
- How did you feel?
Too often, we tend to focus on ourselves and our own pains and needs, overlooking the needs of others. To love as God loves, requires us to focus more on others. In order for us to do so, we must build a strong inner sense of security and self-acceptance. Then we will no longer be worried about what people say about us or do to us. We will then be more willing to see why people act in such a way and what is hurting inside them that drives them to such behaviour. Only with God’s grace can the above be made possible.
- Are you willing to look beyond your own worries and give concern to those around?
“If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also” In a world where power reigns, only losers, and the weak would follow Jesus’s advice because they are afraid to retaliate. It seems that only stupid people will do this. On contrary, turning the other cheek, is not at all an act of weakness. It requires great courage and great inner strength and an awareness that the one who strikes is the one who is really weak. It is easy to lash out at another person by word or action. It is an instinctive reaction to hit back.
Jesus is not asking us to do something “unnatural”. All of us want to be loved and to love, not to be hated or to hate. The only way to break this cycle is to follow Jesus’ advice. It is not a lose-lose or lose-win situation; it will be a win-win situation where everyone benefits.
In the words of the late Mother Teresa: “Love to be real, it must cost – it must hurt – it must empty us of self.”
To put Jesus’s teaching into effect is not a matter of strengthening our will to do something very difficult but to change our conventional thinking, to see things His way. Once we do that, it becomes much easier.
- Are you merely a primate that is controlled by impulses and instincts?
- Are you willing to take the first step to make changes to the way you think?
Finally, Jesus calls us to follow the Father “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”(Luke 6:36). Through us, the mercy and love of God can then be experienced by others. The one filled with the spirit of Christ has nothing to lose, nothing to be ashamed of. Life entails what we are able to give and not what we can acquire. So then let us “Enter through the narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13.)
Hope and Joy,
Patrick and Letitia
Questions for Reflection
How many times have you retaliated, when persecuted?
Have you experienced forgiveness from someone unexpected before?
How did you feel?
Are you willing to look beyond your own worries and give concern to those around?