This fortnight I thought it would be suitably challenging to tackle one of Jesus’ most difficult teachings: love your enemy (see Luke 6: 27–28 & 31–36). It is totally counter-intuitive to love your enemies. It’s not something that we naturally do. In fact, it goes against our very nature, really. Because Jesus lived 2000 years ago and his teachings have now spread across the world and indeed shaped the world, it’s easy to forget just how radical his teaching was at the time. The command to love one’s enemy is still challenging; however, for Jesus’ listeners in the 1st century Middle East, it was mind-blowing. You didn’t love your enemies: you either had as little to do with them as possible, or you took strong action, potentially violent action against them. Jesus was truly revolutionary in teaching his disciples to love their enemy.
There is a trick to loving your enemy. It is through realising that we are all connected. We are all connected in this beautiful world. We are only here, because everything was perfect on Earth. We live on a Goldilocks planet, not too hot, not too cold – just right! We are all connected on this planet. That’s how you learn to love your enemy.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you will always get on with your enemies. It might mean you are still wary of them: cautious. It may even mean that you have to take action to stop them doing something to you personally, but realising that we are all connected will help you to love them.
One of my heroes in life, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who died on Boxing Day last year, modelled what it means to love your enemy. Desmond Tutu was the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town. For most of the time that he was Archbishop of Cape Town, which is the highest position in the Anglican Church in South Africa and quite an influential position in the wider South African society, for most of that time he wasn’t even allowed to vote.
Technically he wasn’t even allowed to live in the Archbishop’s House without special permission, because it was in an area of Cape Town designated for whites-only, but when he was elected Archbishop he said publicly that he “would be occupying the Archbishop’s official residence and that the apartheid government could act as it saw fit.” They did nothing and he lived in the house until his retirement.
As a black man in South Africa, he would have been entitled to hate his enemies. It would have been so easy to hate them. But he had something on his side that made all the difference: his faith. Not just his faith that God loved him, equally, not just that he was equally precious in God’s eyes as anyone else, equally valuable, but also that he was connected with everyone. He felt compassion, even for his oppressors, because of that connectedness, that shared humanity.
He writes about the day that the free elections occurred in South Africa in 1994, when at the age of 62 he was finally allowed to vote. He had an incredible sense of all South Africans, black and white, voting together for the first time ever. If they were going to make the new, free South African society work, they would have to do it together:
“I used to refer to an intriguing old film starring Sidney Poitier, The Defiant Ones. Two convicts, one white, the other black, escape from a chain gang manacled together. They fall into a ditch with slippery sides. One convict claws his way nearly to the top and out of the ditch but cannot make it because he is bound to his mate who has been left at the bottom of the ditch. The only way they can make it, is together, clawing their way out, up and up and up and eventually over the side wall and out.
So too I would say we South Africans will survive and prevail only together, black and white bound together by circumstances and history as we strive to claw our way out of the abyss of apartheid racism, up and out, black and white together. Neither group on its own could make it. God had bound us together. In a way we are living out what Martin Luther King Jr said – ‘Unless we learn to live together as brothers, we will die together as fools’” (D. Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness, p. 5 & 6).
I’ve been reading one of his books over the summer. In No Future without Forgiveness he writes about being involved with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa in the late 1990s. This was the group offering amnesty – forgiveness really – to anyone who would own up to what they had done during the dark years of apartheid. There were quite strict rules: you could only be granted amnesty if you told the whole truth about the crimes you had committed during the apartheid era. So, he heard some terrible confessions from people about what they had done. Despite hearing these terrible stories, he felt compassion for everyone, even for those members of the police who had done terrible things. This allowed him to love them, even though they were once his enemies.
“God does not give up on anyone, for God loved us from all eternity, God loves us now and God will always love us, all of us, good and bad, for ever and ever. His love will not let us go, for God’s love for all of us is unchanging and unchangeable” (p. 75).
The Reverend Dr Theo McCall
Image source: Late Archbishop Desmond Tutu (image credit)