Loving and Forgiving Enemies
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt."
February 18, 2022, Words By: Ron Ruthruff, Image By: Blakely Dadson
As I read our lectionary passage, I find the suggestion to love our enemies, and do well to those who abuse you, profoundly counter intuitive. A blessing for a curse, prayer for your abuser, love for hate; this seems like a ridiculous, if not dangerous, way to live. I grew up in a neighborhood where casting judgment on outsiders and knowing your enemy were keys to survival. To be honest, it was a pretty good way to build a community of brothers. We all knew who we hated, and it was the glue that held our corner of the neighborhood together.
So how do we resist the impulse to make enemies and pass judgment that justifies ourselves and condemns the other, especially when enemies are real and sometimes well warranted? I think verse 37 is the key to finding a way forward.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven…”
I do not believe the implication here is that God’s forgiveness is dependent on our ability to forgive. But these verses do seem to imply two very different ways to live. We either live in judgment, making enemies and keeping long accounts, or we live as forgiving people, extending mercy and loving those we have called enemies. We live in judgment or we live in forgiveness.
If we choose judgment our own hate blinds us to the fullness of the love, mercy, and forgiveness extended to us by God and others. It leads to a self-perpetuating cycle of misery and bitterness. Forgiveness, on the other hand, opens our eyes and our hearts to God’s abundance. But it’s important to define what forgiveness is, and what it isn’t.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. It’s important to acknowledge evil and hurt for what they are: racism, sexism, child abuse, sexual assault and other crimes against our humanity are not to be swept under the rug. The work of justice and reconciliation demands that we don’t simply “forgive and forget,” that we do not too quickly embrace a resolution that doesn’t allow adequate time and space to sit with the severity of these wounds.
In his book No Future Without Forgiveness, Bishop Desmond Tutu claims that forgiveness — not forgetting, or even fixing what has been damaged — but forgiveness, found in the midst of people telling the unvarnished stories of their pain in the face of atrocities, was key to moving from the horrors of apartheid in South Africa.
Forgiveness isn’t a codependent relationship that avoids telling the truth. Forgiveness isn’t a lack of memory. Forgiveness isn’t saying that we have not been deeply hurt and whatever wrong you have incurred isn’t a big deal.
Forgiveness might be saying the exact opposite. Sometimes the damage is so big that it can only be repaired through the power of forgiveness. It might never be forgotten and it simply cannot be fixed, so in the end, it must be forgiven.
Richard Rohr, in his book Learning to Breathe Underwater: exploring the deep spirituality of the twelve-step program, states that,“Forgiveness is to let go of our hope for a different or better past.”* Forgiveness sets me free to let go of what I hoped for — what might have been. It comes with deep grief and lament. But Forgiveness holds no record of wrongs because it draws from a source of life that isn’t about keeping accounts. It relinquishes control and lets go. This letting go acknowledges that there is a reality far outside any human interaction.
The text reminds us that we are children of a divine love that is kind to the ungrateful and to the wicked. It might be the most difficult gift we can ever give to our friends, family, community, and the world. Letting go relinquishes control, but letting go might set us free.
*Richard Rohr, Learning to Breath Under Water (Cincinnati, OH: Anthony Messenger Press, 2011), 48,49.
This article draws from ideas regarding forgiveness in the Authors book, Closer To The Edge : Walking With Jesus for the Worlds Sake (Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers , 2015), 135-145
Dwelling Among Us
Jesus tells us this week to “love our enemies.” We might hope that doing so would transform our enemies, but what if it’s about transforming ourselves? In fact, mercy means “womb-space” in Hebrew. If mercy is a womb that gives life, what does imitating the mercy of the Father call forth in us?