The current climate of fear and uncertainty has ignited cross-cultural conversations around issues of sexuality, tribal politics, nationalism and identity. We live in the internet age, where the ripples of these conversations can be felt in nearly every corner of the globe. The unsettling rise of far-right sentiment within Western Europe has shown that hate still has the power to unite us disturbingly quickly.
In light of this, Christians have never been so suitably placed to live out a different story of enemy love that will undoubtedly jar with the prevailing narrative of the times.
The great mystics and saints have always spoken about the importance of our enemies. Our enemies often reveal the very things that we cannot see or choose not to acknowledge about ourselves. Human nature loves to project its insecurities, failings and sins upon ‘the other’; consequently, we never truly have to face and deal with the darkness within. Throughout the course of human history, we have been guilty of scapegoating different people groups. For example, the economic plight after the First World War led to a European-wide scapegoating of the Jewish people. Scapegoating provides us with a tangible focal point for all the angst, anger and fear pent up within us*. Jesus’ death fully exposed the lie of the scapegoat as he fully surrendered to becoming the scapegoat for us. In the same way, his death should encourage us to pause and look inward before we attack, belittle or target another group; we must decrease and He must increase.
The story of Jonah illustrates quite beautifully how his xenophobic and arrogant views of the Ninevites show that he is as blind as they are. This is the subversive beauty of the story. Jonah speaks of his reluctance to preach the good news to the Ninevites because he knows God will ultimately show mercy and compassion to them. Unfortunately, the sentiment Jonah expresses is so often found within our own congregations and hearts. We are often prone to viewing God as the god of our own particular ethno-national group. In turn, this exposes the danger of fostering a spiritual blindness and arrogance that leads to a sick faith, cloistered in by fear and suspicion. God wants us to have pure hearts, that do not look solely at the outer appearance of a person but to the heart.
Much of our thinking around enemies is directed at other humans; but, the prophet Jeremiah suggests that it is the human heart which is in most need of redemption. You could say that our own hard hearts are the real enemy of the transformation Christ offers. When God became flesh, his life exposed the true depth of our hardened heart.
Jesus exposed the enemy within. Jesus opposed a religious elite obsessed with maintaining its position and authority at the expense of their own souls. Jesus opposed spiritual arrogance that prioritises the attainment of personal piety purely to judge others. Jesus opposed religion that worships God publicly but ignores the needs of the widow and orphan. Jesus opposed faith that does not extend hospitality to the refugee, the foreigner or the poor.
Jesus has enmity towards faith that speaks a lot but costs little.
If I am honest, there are many times in my life that Jesus has had enmity towards me and my daily choices. With that in mind, Jesus does not allow enmity to have the last word. He is always standing at the door of our lives, knocking gently, inviting us into a better story, a fuller reality. Jesus always pursues his enemies with kindness, love and truth; may we mimic his self-giving love and lovingly pursue those who reject and revile us.
As we reflect upon how many of our choices and posture stand at odds with the revealed nature and character of God in Jesus, may we take time to contemplate how we are seen by our enemies. I would encourage you to speak with someone from a different community and ask them how you are seen by them.
May this contemplation lead to a place where we begin to accept many of the truths about ourselves that are difficult to swallow. As we bring these difficulties before God, may we in turn be compelled to love our enemies and pray for those who do not see the world like us.