Billionaire Sir Richard Branson says, “Befriending one’s enemy is a good rule for business – and life.” A clever quip, but please note, 2000 years earlier Jesus said it first and I think for very different reasons.
“Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” The words from Matthew’s Gospel are not easy ones to hear. In these days of “war on terror” being soft on those who would like to harm us is not a popular option, nor has it ever been. Why would Jesus propose such a radical option? I see three possible solutions.
Possible solution number one falls in the direction of the entrepreneurial Richard Branson. Branson is highly noted for his take no prisoners, you only go around once approach to life. From multimillion dollar publicity stunts to high flying adventures Branson’s attitude in business and life is one driven by passion and ambition. In this scenario one just doesn’t have time to squabble in the trenches with those who disagree with you. Better to blow them out of the way or take them along for the ride. I do believe Jesus was passionate, about people and about life. But somehow the Branson personality doesn’t quite seem to fit this measured man of prayer and contemplation.
Possible solution number two is loving one’s enemies as a mode of self survival as is suggested in the book, “The Evolution of God” by Robert Wright. Wright’s thesis around this topic is that these words were not spoken by Jesus but rather penned by his disciples during a time when the Church was under sustained persecution. In this case “love” was not a sincere conviction that one’s enemy was worthy of God’s love and so we must love them as well. Rather it was a ploy which proposed that if you act like you love your enemies they will get confused and leave you alone. Interesting hypothesis but it does not really fit with the image of Jesus on the cross asking for forgiveness for those who have murdered him.
Possible solution number three is that Jesus meant just what he is saying. Love those who hate you; pray for them. The caveat to this explanation is that by loving our enemies we must not have any self interest in the outcome of our response. We are not trying to confuse our enemies; we are not trying to disarm them; we are not trying to get them to stop hating us. We are just trying to love them the way that God loves them.
Let’s face it, we might not have much influence on the scale of international conflict but on the personal level we can agree that we are not going to get through life without some people misunderstanding us for reasons which may be real or imaginary. What is our response when this happens? First of course we try and patch things up but that is not always going end successfully. If all else fails Jesus suggests that we just love the other; yes, even if they hate us. Not in order to change their mind but because they are also one of God’s and that trumps us being liked by everyone.
Are you hanging on to any grudges?
Can you let God love you enough to let your grudges go?