“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28, NRSV)
As an adolescent, the passage from Luke’s Gospel was much simpler to comprehend and to follow. Young people were not always kind to one another. Cliques, as we called them, were a lesser form of tribe mentality. “Us against them” was a consistent energy I saw humming between the jocks, the nerds, the cheerleaders, the farm kids, the kids from the best neighborhoods and the kids from the trailer courts. It was easy to develop animosities in middle and high school.
Junior high is the toughest time in a young person’s development for many reasons. Compound that by the reality of going through it with a bunch of other young people at the same time, all of whom are going through the same changes — well, it’s the perfect breeding ground for both lifelong friendships and deep-lasting divides.
I recall watching my first fistfight in the hallway and teachers breaking it up. Lockers slamming, yelling, kids backing up, kids jumping into the fray. I remember when I saw hair flying as some guys were trying to strip each other bald. Who knows what it was about: turf, identity, name-calling, testosterone? Those guys never seemed to get past their anger.
Reading some historical novels lately has stirred my reflection. Flashing back and forth between generations amongst tribes — warring, partnering, warring again, forging allegiances together, fighting to survive only to then scramble over one another once the turning point passes. How do layers of generational enmity and distrust build into our psyches, our being, our souls? How are we psychosocially, if not genetically, shaped, not only by what we experience in our families or origin but also by our progenitors and predecessors? If they could not heal breaches, can we?
Jesus went on to teach in verse 29: “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your shirt.”
Our present-day, so-called “leaders” are not much for turning the other cheek. They prefer rhetoric that demonizes, undercuts and dehumanizes opponents. I cannot imagine our “leaders” giving away coats or shirts. They fear too much losing what power and control they have garnered.
“Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” Jesus rolls easily from loving and blessing those who do evil against us to being generous with those who take or steal from us.
I can hear the alternate psychology working in the minds of the oppressors. “I can take from them. Their Jesus tells them they should.” But this isn’t about rationalizing a worldview of wealth-seeking power-mongering.
It is about an approach that will bring us to a soul-centeredness the likes of which we cannot attain otherwise.
In recent days, I’ve watched as another has struck out against someone I love. Inasmuch as I am able, I have supported my dear one. Sometimes, I have wanted to strike out because of the injustice of it all.
Along the journey, we both have realized that our greatest opportunity is to Love the Enemy and Bless the One Who Rains Down Curses. Hating, striking, pushing, shoving will get us nowhere, just as it did on the playground, on the ball field, in the war zone or in the courtroom.
The only way to find peace is to claim it, and to be it, and to offer it to the world.
For the Master says, in verse 31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”