February 22, 2022 | By Fr. Vincent Arisukwu
February 22, 2022 | By Fr. Vincent Arisukwu
LOVE YOUR ENEMY. REALLY?
It feels awkward to read that David had such a golden opportunity to kill Saul but spared him. Within me, I am imagining what kind of person David is. What a heart of kindness? Here is his acclaimed enemy, someone desperately seeking his life, someone who would give anything for his head, delivered into his hands. Any of us would quickly act like David’s commander, Abishai, who says to David, “God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day. Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear.” He is not asking David to do it but volunteers to take care of the threat for David. That’s simple. David’s answer is disappointing, “Do not harm him, for who can lay hands on the Lord’s anointed and remain unpunished?” (1 Sam. 26:9).
There are two things from David’s response; one is David’s emphasis on the Lord’s anointed while the other is forgiveness of one’s enemy because of the Christian principle to love as God loves. Either of these can be a hard conversation in our time for several reasons. The world today is justifiably aversive to hearing someone advocate for respect for ordained ministers in the Church. This is exacerbated by the recent history of sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church while on the broader circle, other forms of abuses abound in the name of church. Not just that, the sense of secularism has become high. Some persons argue that ordained persons are not different from others and do not deserve any special treatment.
To the question whether ordained persons deserve to be accorded special respected or be treated as sacred cows, the answer would be no. However, looking at David and Saul, scripture makes us understand that Saul had abused his office as the Lord’s anointed. Saul’s failure to carry out the Lord’s command is the reason why the Lord takes royalty away from him and for which Samuel anoints David to replace him. The vote of no-confidence on Saul favors David’s popularity which in turn infuriates Saul. For this reason, Saul is out to kill David. In that sense, Saul can be said to have lost his dignity and respect as a person. But is it about Saul or about the office which he represents? David’s response refers to the sanctity of office which Saul occupies. Though he falters, Saul is still God’s anointed. He is respected not because of his personal worth but because in him resides the sanctity of God’s anointing from his office. Ordained ministers should recognize that, too. They are respected for the sake of God and should strive to hold that dignity in awe.
The second issue is the heart to forgive. David’s attitude depicts high moral character. His action sends the signal of God’s mercy for sinners. Sin creates enmity with God, yet God does not destroy the sinner. David remarks in the Psalm (103) that the Lord is kind and merciful, pardons iniquities, heals all ills, redeems from destruction, and crowns with kindness and compassion. God has a high premium on human life. David sees in Saul the dignity of human life. David glorifies the Lord when he sings, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Ps. 23:5). Saul is David’s enemy, but David acknowledges the sanctity of life as belonging to God.
As a teenager, I remember the greatest revenge I took against someone for hurting me. My two older sisters and I plotted that mission and executed it perfectly at that time. Within those moments, it was sweet to pay my avenger back in her own coin, but that action has refused to be deleted in my heart to date. The Christian mindset abhors hate, to pay back evil for evil. Christ puts before his disciples, “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” This is hard. Is Jesus not aware of what he is asking his disciples to do? The phrase, “To you who hear,” conveys the implications of this demand. There are many listeners but possibly not everyone would accept this teaching. Those listeners would certainly be saying to themselves, “How dare you ask us to do good to those who hate us?” That was exactly my mindset when I went back to smack my detractor over twenty years ago. Isn’t that what the Christian principle demands that we reflect upon this weekend? To accept God’s teaching is to live in the mind of Christ.
The reality of Christian love is that love exists when we are wounded. Imagine the sorrows of Christ and his suffering. Then Jews made themselves enemies of Christ and defiantly meant to kill him. They falsely accused him, intimidated the authorities to condemn him, placed the crown of thorns upon his head, scourged him at the pillar, placed the cross upon his shoulders, and finally executed him on the cross he carried. Yet, Christ prayed asking the Father to forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. When Christ asks us to love our enemies and to pray for them, he is not asking us to do something strange, rather to emulate a standard which he already set for his disciples.
Loving your enemies, doing good to those who hate you, blessing those who curse you, and praying for those who mistreat you are not popular sales strategies in today’s world that is prone to judging and condemning so easily. The world is full of negativity and would definitely teach us to counterattack. Christ knows all that and warns, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” And he says, “Even sinners do the same.” Here is the conflict. Those who lack the Christian principles of love and mercy are quick to judge. They will be quick to condemn not because they are sinless but because they have not experienced the mercy of God. Anyone who experiences God’s mercy will strive to give back mercy. Aren’t we all guilty of something? Aren’t we culpable and deserving of God’s punishment for some mess we have made? It is not about what the world sets before us, rather about knowing who we are “children of the Most High,” who is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” That is what distinguishes Christians from the world.
Forgiving an enemy is definitely a hard thing to ask. That is the truth. Treating your enemies as if they are friends might seem unreasonable and unrealistic. It was not easy in Christ’s time, so, won’t get any easier in our own time. But think about it as moving forward from where you are at this moment. If you have had a particular enemy for some time, it means you have remained where you are, perhaps spiritually stagnated. You need to free yourself from the entanglement of the past. You need to embrace a higher standard. Christ says, “pray for those who mistreat you.” Start with praying for God’s grace. Make it intentional. See if it is hard to pray for someone you consider an enemy. Prayer can soften the ground for you. Keep praying about it.
Revenge might seem sweet, but forgiveness is sweeter. Revenge multiplies bitterness while forgiveness introduces freedom. Revenge puts both the avenger and the revenger in a cage because it opens the cycle of wounds. Judgment and condemnation may seem appealing especially when we are in the position to judge. Christ asks us to stop judging else we’ll be judged. Forgiveness creates an inner joy that brings healing and freedom. Each time I recall my revenge plots taken over twenty years ago, I feel shorthanded. Those butterflies in my stomach make me feel little. Like David, we can let go to teach the enemy the higher standard. Imagine how Saul would feel seeing his spear and cloak in David’s hands when he woke up yet knowing that he was spared though not by merit. Imagine how your enemy feels seeing that you are way ahead of him in the joy of forgiveness. Let’s not lower the bar. If we have been forgiven by God, then we must strive to forgive our detractors. That is the Christian mindset.
Readings: 1st- 1 Sam. 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; 2nd- 1 Cor. 15:45-49; Gospel- Lk. 6:27-38