But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)
For a text that provides a clear basis for Christian nonviolence, this reading sure has hit me in the face repeatedly lately.
Jesus’ call to “love your enemies” was proclaimed during the cycle of Sunday readings not long ago. Earlier that same week, it was a topic in my daughter’s sacramental preparation lessons. Among Christians committed to social justice, “love your enemies” is a popular saying, for we know it is central to the way of discipleship.
But perhaps it has become a little too easy to rattle off.
In times like these, it is difficult to keep up with the emerging political landscape, with policy shifts and executive orders that appear almost daily as enemies in our shared work for justice for all people, and for the care of the Earth. If you’re like me, you might become easily overwhelmed by the news itself, let alone the call to respond to these events with the “love” of Jesus.
Jesus’ command to his disciples was hardly abstract. Jesus clearly assumed that his followers had and would indeed make particular enemies—for example, those imperial forces, including their allies among the religious leaders, who wanted to silence Jesus and his movement. But he also had in mind groups of people who his followers tended to oppress, exclude, or look down upon—women, outsiders, the sick, various “sinners.”
Pursuing the gospel of peace and justice necessarily means that we will make enemies just as Jesus did. It also means opening our ears and our hearts those who consider us to be enemies because of the way our lifestyles and attitudes exclude or oppress them. In each case, the command to love is clear, even if the way to do so is not.
After the recent executive orders on refugees, when talking to my daughter about Jesus teaching us to “love our enemies,” she asked me, “Like Donald Trump, Daddy?” She’s on her way to understanding Jesus’ tough teachings.
Am I? Are we?
Let us hearken to God’s voice this Lent, that we might be a people sacred to the Lord, perfect as the parental love of God is perfect.
Michael Iafrate is Co-Coordinator of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) and served as the lead author of CCA’s “People’s Pastoral,” The Telling Takes Us Home: Taking Our Place in the Stories that Shape Us. He is a West Virginia native, a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University (’99 and ’03), and is completing a dissertation in theology for the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. His writing has appeared in National Catholic Reporter and Religion Dispatches and in the collections Secular Music and Sacred Theology, edited by Tom Beaudoin (Liturgical Press, 2013) and the forthcoming Music, Theology, and Justice, edited by Michael O’Connor, Christina Labriola, and Hyun-Ah Kim (Lexington Books, 2017). He is also a singer-songwriter and old time musician.