Third Sunday after Epiphany-Keeping Your Enemies Close, The Catholic Way
Being of one mind one towards another. Not minding high things, but consenting to the humble. Be not wise in your own conceits. To no man rendering evil for evil. Providing good things, not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as is in you, have peace with all men. Revenge not yourselves, my dearly beloved; but give place unto wrath, for it is written: Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. But if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink. For, doing this, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good. (Romans 12:16-21)
Who are my enemies? In the broadest sense, an enemy is anyone who turns against me. Jesus is not talking about enemies on the other side of the world. He is talking about personal enemies who tend to be much closer to home. In fact, home is the first place to look for our enemies. Jesus said, “A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Matthew 10:36). He mentions three close relationships that can go sour: A father and his son, A mother and her daughter, A mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law.
We can easily extend from that list to apply to other close relationships, including the husband-wife relationships and relations with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and other more distant relatives. These are the people that many go home to every day or interact with on more or less a regular basis. Every week you are around people who may dislike you.
We may even come to church and see people we would rather not see. Many of our enemies are found in our immediate sphere of influence. If this teaching of Jesus about loving our enemies is going to work, it must work first in the relationships closest to us. You have to learn to deal with the people closest to you before you can impact the world around you.
HOW ARE WE TO LOVE OUR ENEMIES?
Here are seven suggestions that will move us in the right direction.
1) Greet Them
We often overlook this simple step. One part of loving our enemies is greeting them graciously when we see them. Sometimes instead of turning the other cheek, we turn away so we won’t have to say hello to someone who hurt us. Some of us have been quite adept at looking the other way, ducking into a room, crossing the street, or even using Caller ID to keep from greeting people we don’t like. But if we only greet our friends, what benefit is that? Do not even sinners greet each other? One part of loving your enemies is to greet them instead of avoiding them. Smile, shake hands, and say hello to your enemies. It’s a good first step.
2) Disarm Them
That’s what you do when you turn the other cheek or go the second mile. You disarm them by doing the very thing they least expect. You do it by speaking well of them when no one expects it. General Robert E. Lee was once asked his opinion of a fellow officer who was widely known as one of Lee’s greatest detractors. The general responded that he thought the man a very fine officer. “But General,” his questioner replied, quite perplexed, “I guess you don’t know what he’s been saying about you.” “Oh, yes I do,” replied Lee. “But I was asked my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.”
3) Do Good to Them
It’s fascinating that in Luke 6, when Jesus said twice, “Love your enemies”, both times he immediately added, “Do good to them” so we wouldn’t miss the point. Doing good to your enemies means seeing beyond your pain and their meanness to their humanity. It means seeing them as people created by God and understanding there is something twisted inside that causes them to do what they do. Doing good means doing what will promote their healing despite the way they have treated you. You make the first move. You send the e-mail. You pick up the phone. You make the contact. You bridge the gap. You set up the appointment. But what if they don’t respond well? That doesn’t matter.
We’re not in charge of how people respond to us. Make the first move and let the Lord take care of the results.
4) Refuse to Speak Evil of Them
That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Bless them that curse you” (Luke 6:28). It means you choose not to think evil thoughts, and you refuse to speak evil words against those who have wronged you. Proverbs has a great deal to say about the power of words. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: they that love it, shall eat the fruits thereof.” (Proverbs 18:21). Every time we open our mouth, life or death comes out. I am increasingly impressed with this thought: Forgiveness in many cases is not possible because we will not stop talking. As long as we talk over and over again about how others have hurt us, we will never find the strength to forgive. At some point, we have to stop talking and start forgiving. Here is the simple truth: You can criticize your enemy, or You can pray for them. But you can’t do both at the same time.
I once told of a man whose wife had been repeatedly and publicly criticized for something she had written. When I asked how she was handling it, he said, “She has taken a vow of silence.” She would not speak to her critics because nothing she said would satisfy them, and she would not speak of her critics for the good of her own soul.
Perhaps some of us need to take a vow of silence so we can let go of bitterness and get on with life.
5) Thank God for Them
If you believe in the sovereignty of God, you must believe your enemies are sent to you by God’s design and with God’s approval. If Satan could not tempt Job without God’s permission, and if Satan could not sift Peter without Jesus’ permission, your enemies could not torment you without God’s permission.
I believe God places in your life every person you need for your spiritual growth. He’ll send a Saul, a David, an Esau, a Daniel, an Absalom, an Esther, a Judas, a Barnabas, and a Timothy. God uses each one to teach you something and to make you more like Jesus.
Behind your enemy stands the hand of God. God would never permit it if he did not intend to bring something good out of it. You should take a picture of your enemy, stick it on your refrigerator door, and thank God for your enemy every time you look at the picture.
6) Pray for Them
When a German pastor of a parish was arrested by the Nazis in World War II, he prayed daily from his prison cell for his captors. Other prisoners asked why he prayed for those who were his enemies. “Do you know anyone who needs your prayers more than your enemies?” he replied. But what if you hate the person you are praying for? Tell that to the Lord. He won’t be surprised. Then say something like this, “Lord, I hate this person, but you already know that. I ask you to love this person through me because I can’t do it in my own power. I ask you for a love I don’t have and can’t begin to produce.” God will not turn you away when you come with an honest heart, admitting you need his love to flow through you.
7) Ask God to Bless Them
Here’s a simple way to do that. When faced with someone who has mistreated you, ask God to do for them what you want God to do for you.
Seek the same blessing for them that you seek for yourself. Think of it this way: The greater the hurt, the greater the potential blessing that will come when we forgive from the heart and by God’s grace bless those who curse us.
A non Catholic missionary named Graham Stewart Staines, 58, and his two sons, Philip, ten, and Timothy, eight, were burned to death when the Jeep they were sleeping in was doused with gasoline and set on fire. Witnesses report that a mob beat up anyone trying to rescue the missionaries. The incident occurred outside Manoharpur, about 620 miles southeast of New Delhi. Staines's wife, Glady Staines and daughter had stayed behind while he took his boys to help lead a five-day program of Bible-reading and prayer, as Staines's group had done for 20 years.
Glady Staines says in her affidavit before the Commission on the death of her husband and two sons:
“The Lord God is always with me to guide me and help me to try to accomplish the work of Graham, but I sometimes wonder why Graham was killed and also what made his assassins to behave in such a brutal manner on the night of 22nd / 23rd January, 1999. It is far from my mind to punish the persons who were responsible for the death of my husband Graham and my two children. But it is my desire and hope that they would repent and would be reformed.
The perpetrators of the crime should be forgiven as it was the Almighty who had drawn the life span of her husband “God gives children. He gives them life. He gives and takes. I am grateful to God for giving her husband this long a life to serve people. We cannot demand a longer life from God than what He has decided for each of us,”
Mrs. Staines was a picture of poise as she stood yards away from the verandah where three coffins had been lined up. Her resilience seemed to have passed on to her 13-year-old daughter Esther who stayed by her mother’s side ever since the killing. Women mourners seeking to console her broke into sobs every now and then. The last thing she said before sitting down was these words...
“I’ve no hatred for anyone. “I’ve no anger,”
Seeing that God has given to us the Catholic Church, and priests who dispense sanctifying grace each and every day to the faithful in the sacraments, especially Holy Communion and Confession, Don't you think that we as Catholics should be able to do the same as Mrs. Staines?
Let me offer one final word: Your enemy is a gift from God to you. To say that is not to excuse evil or to condone mistreatment. It does not cancel the need for punishment when a crime has been committed. It is to say exactly what Joseph meant when he said to his brothers, “You thought evil against me: but God turned it into good,” (Genesis 50:20). Our enemies humble us, they keep us on our knees, they reveal our weakness, and they expose our desperate need for God. Strange as it may sound, we need the enemies God sends to us. If we didn’t need them, he wouldn’t send them. Therefore, we thank God who knows best, and we love our enemies the best way we can. Often God raises up an enemy to see if we really want to be like Jesus. He will keep our enemies alive and well as long as we need them.
Jesus had enemies. They killed him. He loved them anyway. Do you want to be like Jesus?
As Our Epistle for today says, Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.
FR Francis Dominic