Who is my Enemy

The reflection at this week’s gathering of Weekly Manna at the law school was offered by my friend and colleague Chato Hazelbaker.

This week, Chato took as his starting point the portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus instructs us to love our enemies:

You have heard that it was 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, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.

Chato observed that these lines create an issue for us that they did not create for the people hearing Jesus teach. In Israel, even at the time of Jesus, there were clearly defined enemies of the Jewish people; there were real identifiable enemies of Israel. He contrasted that with the United States today – we are at war in Afghanistan, but our enemies are not the people of Afghanistan, but the Taliban, and even they are not easily identifiabe.

On a personal level, Chato indicated that he can’t think of anyone he would identify with the word “enemy.” People he gets irritated with, sure – but no enemies. (People have often made similar comments to me about the first of the meditations I present in Growing in Love and Wisdom, titled “Friend, Enemy, Stranger – to the effect that they have no enemies.)

So who are our enemies? Chato relayed an incident that occurred last weekend, when he went to watch his daughter play a JV basketball game at another school, that suggested how easily and subtly we can create “enemies,” people to whom it is difficult for us to extend love and compassion.

Chato admitted that he has an issue with privilege, with excessive income and the conspicuous consumption that goes along with it. The high school his daughter’s team played at was clearly a place of privilege. And that, almost immediately, caused him to view the people there in a negative light – as, well, enemies. It wasn’t anything they did – indeed, everyone he came across was quite nice and pleasant. But he had mentally put them in a box – people of the type I find distasteful because of their privilege.

I thought his story an instructive one, because, while the particulars vary, I think we do that sort of thing far too often. Out of our preconceptions, turn people into “enemies,” people who we in some way think are unworthy of our love. And doing so not only makes it difficult for us to love them, but allows us to feel justified in not doing so.

Jesus instruction is as important to us today as it was when he delivered the Sermon on the Mount. We are to love everyone – even those who, for whatever reason, are difficult for us to love. Jesus instruction continues

For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brother only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.