Of all the teachings pronounced by Jesus in his lifetime none is more difficult than the commandment to “love your enemies” It is easy to love our neighbor; to love our spouse; to love children; to love the poor and the disadvantaged. But to love the one who has hurt us or intends to hurt is another thing completely. When Jesus pronounced this teaching, you can be sure that the people listening to him were probably shocked beyond belief. Love my enemies? How can that be? After all, imbedded in the laws of Judaism and in most ancient cultures was the expectation to fight one’s enemies. Not only that, but there was a general understanding that one could rightly seek revenge of some sort against those who hurt you in some way. This was a matter of justice.
The earliest record we have of actual laws regarding Justice in terms of revenge was found on some stone tablets discovered in ancient Mesopotamia known as the code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi was a Babylonian king who lived about 1750 years before Christ. He codified various laws which are considered to be one of the earliest examples of judicial rights of the innocent and punishment upon the guilty. Much of the code dealt with laws regarding lex talionis—literally—laws of retaliation.
In our message series, Common Sense, we’ve been exploring the reasons why following the teachings of Jesus makes sense, even on this very difficult teaching about the love of enemies. Let’s face it; we live in a world where retaliation or revenge is widely accepted. Revenge is played out on every school playground; revenge is practiced in many courtrooms; revenge is used in arguments between spouses and revenge is sought in many conflicts around the world. You hurt me. I hurt you. This is the cycle of revenge. This is the reality of an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
What Jesus is concerned with, which makes common sense, is the need to break the cycle of revenge. Revenge accomplishes nothing except to foster greater hatred and injustice. Mahatma Ghandi is credited with saying, “an eye for an eye will leave the world filled with blind people.” Jesus teaches that the only way to end the cycle of violence and revenge is to pull the plug on it by forgiving the offender. The fact is, while we may not like to think about the need to forgive those who hurt us, we actually forgive many things each day. We forgive and forget things almost automatically. If someone bumps into you in a crowd, that person will usually say, “oh, I’m sorry,” and you would normally respond, “Don’t worry about it,” and that’s the end. So it takes common sense to believe what Christ teaches. If we don’t forgive, our anger will pile up and destroy us emotionally and spiritually.
—Fr. Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
Father Roger Gustafson