The Rev. Noel Bordador
The Gospel reading concerning Jesus’s command to love one’s enemies is one of the most difficult and challenging passages to hear and comment on, mainly because loving one’s enemies goes counter our natural human inclination. I mean, it is easier to to love and like people who are love or like us. However, it is a challenge to like or love those who do not like us, especially those who wish us ill. It is especially difficult to like, much less love, those who hurt us deeply. Is this indeed possible- to love one’s enemies?
My grandmother loved to tell stories about our family, but one particular story made a lasting impression on me. During the Second World War, when the Japan invaded the Philippines, it was just a mater of days when the Emperor’s army marched right into our sleepy town. What they did is that they took our house, occupied it, turning this it into a military barracks. As if that wasn’t enough, she was humiliated when she was conscripted to be the cook for the enemies of her people. I could just imagine her fear, outrage, and bitterness.
One of the soldiers apparently became interested in my grandmother’s practice of her Christian and catholic faith, and this soldier from time to time inquired about what she believed, why she believed. When a plague broke out, the soldier fell gravely ill. My grandmother felt it was her Christian duty to save the life of her “jailer.” So my grandmother disregarded her natural inclination to dislike or hate her enemy and nursed him back to health. At one point, the soldier, thinking that he would not survive the illness, asked to be baptized. Unable to get a priest and fearing that the soldier would die soon, my grandmother made a bold step in administering emergency baptism, even giving him a Christian name. At that moment, enemies became friends. The soldier was no longer an enemy, but brother in this one Lord who commands us, “Love your enemies.”
It is natural to meet the hurt we experience from others by inflicting hurt. It is a natural human predilection to meet hate with hate. It is all too human to want to inflict suffering on those who bring us suffering. Violence begets violence, which begets more violence and suffering. If we want to stop suffering engendered by violence and hate we see around us, then we must somehow stop the cycle by refusing to inflict violence and hate on those who hurt us or wish us harm.
Among our Buddhist brothers and sisters, there is an ancient spiritual practice, which I incoprtaed in my onw prayer life, the practice of what is called metta bhavana, sending wishes of lovingkindness to all living beings, including one’s enemies happiness, good health, feeling of safety, goodness, and peace. There is a “prayer” that applies to self, to a loved one and one’s enemies: “May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you be at peace.” When Buddhists pray for their enemies, it is not a matter of condoning the evil their enemies have done, or are doing. By intentionally wishing good things on their enemies, our Buddhist brothers and sisters are simply praying that their enemies would simply cease to inflict suffering on others so that true peace might take root. Furthermore, by praying for their enemies, Buddhist are simply making an intention that they, too, will cease to perpetuate the cycle of hate and violence by wishing all beings, including enemies, goodness, safety and peace. By the very act of praying for their enemies, Buddhist begin the first step of making peace, and healing the world.
The command of Jesus to love one’s enemies is also not about loving and justifying the unnecessary and intentional pain and suffering that others inflict on us. It simply an exhortation to build a peaceful world by refusing to be caught up in a cycle of violence. We are confronted by a choice- either we ourselves become trapped in the cycle of hate and violence, that could eventually destroy us as well; or, we can take an noble intention and act to break that cycle.