Sunday, February 18, 2007

How To Love Your Enemies—Especially The ‘Instant’ Ones!

David spares Saul.

(Seventh Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on February 18, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 1 Samuel 26: 2-23; Luke 6: 27-38.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventh Sunday of the Year 2007]

You’ve heard of instant coffee and instant oatmeal; you know about instant winners and instant rebates and instant feedback and instant messaging.

But you’ve probably never heard of “instant enemies—until now.

And yet we’ve all had them in the past—and in all likelihood we will have many more of them in the future.

So we’ve got to be prepared to deal with them!—because of all the enemies we may have in this life, our “instant” ones are often the most difficult to handle.

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel to “love” our enemies. That, of course, includes ALL of them, whether they are the instant type or some other variety!

Now what’s interesting about this command is the fact that Jesus presumes that we will have enemies; he presumes that even the very best among us—even the greatest of saints—will have enemies here on earth. Consequently he doesn’t say, “Love your enemies if you happen to have them”; he simply says, “Love your enemies (i.e., the enemies you ALREADY HAVE—and presumably will have in the future!).”

David, as we heard in today’s first reading, had an enemy in King Saul, who was hunting him down to try to kill him! St. Paul, the author of today’s second reading, made a number of enemies during his missionary journeys. (We know that because he wrote about them quite often in his letters, most especially in his Letter to the Galatians.)

Even Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, had some enemies—among them the scribes and the Pharisees and the other religious leaders of the day who were closed to him and his message.

Sometimes, of course, we may be the cause of the problem; we need to admit that in a spirit of humility. Someone, in other words, might be our enemy because we have sinned against them in some way. This is what makes us different from Jesus. Jesus was perfect; if somebody was his enemy we can be absolutely certain that it was not his fault. That’s not the case with us! St. Paul says in this text from 1 Corinthians 15 that we all “bear the image” of the “earthly man” (i.e., Adam). That means we all have within us the residual effects of original sin; we all have the potential to harm other people in pretty serious ways.

So if that’s the reason someone is our enemy—because we’ve intentionally harmed them in some fashion—then the solution is for us to admit it. We need to come to terms with our guilt and repent and seek reconciliation!

That having been said, Jesus in this passage is speaking specifically about those times in life when someone else’s sin is at the root of the problem. He’s speaking about those situations when someone else’s evil action has caused them to become our enemy.

And those situations can come upon us very quickly, can’t they? As we all know, a person can move from the “friend” category to the “enemy” category in a matter of only a few seconds. And I submit to you today that it’s those people—our “instant enemies”—that we usually have the most difficulty dealing with.

Osama bin Laden, for example, is definitely an enemy to all of us, but he’s a rather distant one. He’s somebody, in other words, that we don’t deal with directly and on a daily basis (thank God!). For us to desire the good for him (which, incidentally, is what love is: to love is to make a conscious decision to desire “the good” for another); for us to desire Osama bin Laden’s good (which would include his conversion and repentance and sanctity) really isn’t all that difficult. It might be a lot harder for us if we’ve lost a relative or friend in the Iraq War, but bin Laden is far enough removed from the daily experience of most Americans that “loving him” in this way is relatively easy.

It can be much more difficult to “desire the good” for the guy who suddenly cuts us off on the highway, or who makes an obscene gesture to us in a crowded parking lot (not the St. Pius X parking lot, of course—no one would ever do such a thing there!).

It can be very hard to love your own sister when she takes your toys or video games without your permission and ends up breaking them; it can be hard to love your brother when he connives with lawyers to take more than his rightful share of the family estate! It can be very hard to love your spouse or your child when they lie to you about something really important; it can be hard to love your co-worker when he steals the credit for something that you did, and then happily gets the raise that you should have gotten.

What makes these situations so difficult is that these are people for whom we have had good feelings (or at least no negative feelings). Then, all of a sudden, they do something to us and we have really bad feelings toward them. In effect, they become our “instant enemies”!

So-called “crimes of passion” are committed by “instant enemies”. The violence that comes from “road rage” is caused by instant enemies. How often have people said things they have later regretted very deeply because they overreacted to an instant enemy?

It happens all the time.

This is why we must pray daily and ask the Lord to fill our hearts with his love—his forgiving, merciful, patient love.

But that’s not sufficient. Prayer is essential, but it’s really not enough. In addition to prayer, we also have to train ourselves to “think rightly” about other people. That can help us to respond to them in a loving way whenever they become our enemies.

Here we can definitely take a lesson from David in the Old Testament. Now if there’s anyone who had a good reason to hate his enemy, it was this man. Saul, as you will recall, was the first king of Israel; but he had disobeyed God in a very important matter, and so the Lord took the kingship away from him, and he promised it to young David.

That wasn’t David’s fault! It was Saul’s fault; but Saul hated David because of it and wanted to kill him. And so he began to track David all over Palestine; he began to hunt him down. Well, at one point the tables suddenly got turned: the hunter became the hunted. Saul and his men were asleep in their camp, and David and his men found them. Needless to say, Saul and his soldiers were like sitting ducks. And Abishai, David’s general (as we heard in today’s first reading), immediately wanted to kill Saul in David’s name.

But David refused to let him do it. And he refused because of how he thought of Saul. He recognized this man—evil though he was—as “the Lord’s anointed”. And so he said to Abishai, “Do not harm him, for who can lay hands on the Lord’s anointed and remain unpunished?”

Abishai probably wanted to say to David, “Are you crazy? This guy hates you; he’s out of his mind; he’s been tracking you for days, and now you’ve got him exactly where you want him. End it; kill him, and stop this madness!”

But David, to his great credit, had trained himself to “think rightly” about his enemy, and so he responded to him with love and mercy instead of hate. David didn’t always do that with respect to his enemies, but he did do it here. He “thought rightly” about Saul; he didn’t simply pray.

The fact is, every person we encounter in our daily lives is also “the Lord’s anointed”. Did you realize that? Every single person we meet on this earth has either been anointed—literally!—by God in the sacrament of Baptism; or if they’re not baptized they’ve at least been anointed with the “image” of God when their human soul was created.

We need to train ourselves to think of other people in this way—as God’s anointed sons and daughters—so that if they ever become our enemies (especially our “instant” enemies) we will still be able to love them and desire the good for them.

Because remember what Bishop Sheen once said: “The real test of a Christian is not how much he loves his friends; [the real test of a Christian] is how much he loves his enemies.”