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What does it really mean to “love our enemies”?


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Edifa - published on 01/21/20

It seems impossible, but Jesus asks us to do it and here's why.

Loving one’s enemies is at the heart of the Gospel. This love is real and demanding, because it asks for nothing in return. Jesus didn’t romanticize or caricature it in any way: “I say to you, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Lk 6:27). And to make it even more clear, he included it in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!” (Lk 6:22).

The law of forgiveness replaces the law of retaliation

Of course, Jesus is no masochist. He breaks the vicious circle of vengeance and violence in favor of a respectful and benevolent love for one’s enemy: “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk 6:28). His life bears witness to this gift of love, especially from the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). “I say to you that hear”: the attitude of the disciple is firstly to listen to Jesus with a docile heart in order to then love in truth.

“I say to you, love your enemies.” Exit the old decree, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (see Lv 24:20) and enter the law of forgiveness that replaces the law of retaliation. Jesus corrects the law and brings it to perfection. Every human life is sacred. Murder, torture, or wars no longer hold before this call to love one’s enemies.

To love one’s enemies—mission (im)possible?

Why love our enemies? Because God loves them and we are His children. Do we not all share the same Father who “is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish” (Lk 6:35)? His mercy is beyond all rancor. But how can we love the person who has betrayed us, who has done us harm? It’s a difficult battle to fight on one’s own, that true, but Jesus refers us to our free-will and shows us the way: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven” (Lk 6:37-38).

Quite a challenge! Christ does us the honor of asking us to undertake it freely, despite our wounds and our limitations. He trusts us. It’s not impossible because He Himself took up the same challenge. He knows we’re capable of it, on condition that we let Him love through us. To do so, He gave us his Spirit. So let’s not be discouraged. The road to the Father is long, but forgiveness lightens our step. Each day, we become a little more merciful. Like Father, like son and daughter!

Jacques Gauthier

RelationshipsSpiritual Life
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