Today we hear the story of a long time ago when Saul was the king of Israel. Unfortunately, Saul made a big mistake, and God decided to pick someone else to be king. And God chose David to be Israel's king when he was still a small boy. As you can imagine, this made Saul angry, and Saul wanted to hurt David, so David had to run away and hide.
The passage, fast-forwarding the story, reminds us that one night while Saul and all of his men were sleeping, David and Abishai found Saul's camp. They walked into the camp and saw Saul sleeping with a spear and a water jug beside him. Abishai wanted to kill Saul, but David knew that this was an opportunity to forgive Saul and make things right.
David took Saul's spear and jug and left the camp despite the temptation. Then he called Saul. David told Saul that he was sorry. Saul knew that David could have killed him but didn't. Ultimately, Saul forgave David and said he would not hurt David again. Now Saul and David were able to live in peace. They learned the hard lesson that God wanted them to love their enemies.
What about us? It's simple to say that God wants us to love our enemies, but who are our enemies, and how do we love them?
The question can throw us immediately into the heart of politics. "Doing good to friends and harm to enemies" is Polemarchus's definition of justice in Plato's Republic. Socrates trips him up on whether he means those who "appear to be or those who truly are friends and enemies." The book also ponders whether a just man would ever harm anyone.
Today, we also hear the famous Gospel passage to "love your enemies" – for sure easier said than done! But, I ask again, who are they?
Today, when asked who our "enemies" are, many of us might very well speak of fellow citizens on the other side of the political divide. And, to the shame of us all, that conflict has boiled over into families, neighborhoods, and even into churches. As believers, as followers of Christ, we are called to do better, be better, and live better!
I think about a friend who had a very difficult individual as his parish council president in his first parish as pastor. She called him to yell at him on many occasions, often over trivial matters. She spoke over him and interrupted him at council meetings. She gossiped about him and wrote uncharitable, untrue, and mean things about him on the internet. She was rude, angry, and desperately afraid of losing control over the church where she had ruled unchallenged for decades. She had made her new pastor "the enemy" and was unwilling to change.
My friend tried; he really did. He took Jesus' words to "pray for those who persecute you." He attempted to reconcile with her, reason with her many times, but to no avail. She continued to be extremely hostile towards him. So, he just prayed, and he prayed, and he prayed for her. What else could he have done?
Praying for our enemies can be both cathartic and powerful. They can inspire the afflicted to see and name the real evil and call on God to act against it. Surrendering to God's power is powerful and freeing!
Remember, the very word "enemy" comes from the Latin inimicus, and means simply "not a friend." Of course, not everyone who is not a friend is an enemy. Enemies are opponents – not opponents for play, as in sports or games like we see in the Olympics, but in mutual opposition with us in matters of deep concern. Their goals are opposed to our own highest aspirations.
Enemies can unwind and distract us, and for some, praying for enemies doesn't seem to be enough, so here are some other ways to respond that reflect the attitudes of a committed Christian:
Show your enemies the genuine respect that every human being deserves. Learn to think of them with compassion. It's never appropriate to be disrespectful – in public or private.
Cultivating compassion may help to visualize your enemies as the children they once were (and somehow remain).
Make every effort to know and understand them better – their hopes, fears, concerns, and aspirations. Oftentimes people act on partial truths, half the story, and incomplete information.
Search for common goals, spell them out, and try to explore together ways of reaching these goals. People who refuse to work together not only remain enemies but reject the work of the Gospel which calls for unity, unity in Christ.
Don't cling to your own convictions. Examine them in light of your enemies' convictions with all the sincerity you can muster. Be open-minded and open-hearted.
Do not judge persons, but look closely at the effect of their actions. Are they building up or endangering the common good? Remember, even those we call enemies are created in the image and likeness of God.
Wherever possible, show your enemies kindness. Do them as much good as you can. At least, sincerely wish them well.
Loving our enemies is an ideal for human beings of any spiritual tradition. I presume that we are all here because we follow Jesus and want to follow him more closely. So, let's recall the words of Jesus himself:
"You have heard it said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
And this, in turn, reminds me of what G. K. Chesterton said:
"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried."
In our world so torn by enmity, on the verge of another war, and still recovering from the pandemic, let's try, with all we have, to be better Christians today by trying to love our enemies.
In the end, the Lord will not judge us necessarily on whether or not we succeeded, but only on whether we really tried!