Not to brag or anything, but I'm a rather diligent daughter. Living 900 miles away from the town where I spent the first 22 years of my life has done that to me. I call home every afternoon and spent between 20-40 minutes talking to my mom. My dad is a teacher at the State Penitentiary, and is gone from 7 in the morning until around 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon. In the evening twice a week, my mom is usually teaching composition classes at one of the local community colleges. As an unfortunate result, Mom doesn't really have a lot of people to talk to during the day, which is why I call.
So, needless to say, I was a little surprised when I called home on Wednesday to hear my dad answer the phone. Dad's never home at 1:30 in the afternoon, so my first question was "What's wrong?"
"Oh, your mom got in a car accident. She's alright, just shaken up."
After the initial shock of it wore off, Dad told me that Mom had been rear-ended while pulling out of the McDonald's parking lot near our house. My oldest brother, MJ, was in the car with her and they had been getting him a treat because he worked late. The large SUV slammed into her back end and caused a significant amount of damage to the bumper. The man driving pulled to the side, got out and looked at his bumper and then got back into his car and drove away, all before Mom really had a chance to process what happened.
My father was, suffice it to say, upset. Not only did this happen with poor timing, but the snowy conditions made it extremely hard to get the guy's license plate, and thus it's going to be hard to catch the guy. While Mom wasn't injured, someone had threatened the safety of his family, and my dad was angry. This man, whoever he was, became my dad's enemy by committing this act of injustice against his wife and son.
The hardest commandment that Jesus gave us was not "Love thy neighbor." It's pretty darn easy to do that--to look at the orphaned kids in Africa and say, "That is my neighbor; I will love him." It's simple to look at the girl who was sold by her family into slavery and has had no opportunity to even learn how to read and say, "You are my neighbor. I love you."
It is so much harder to look at the man who trafficked her, who put her into that situation, and say the same thing.
It is so much harder to look at the CEO who makes a $1Mil bonus while his factory workers in China worry about where their next meal will come from, and tell him "God loves you, too."
It is so much harder to think of now-dead tyrants--Saddam Hussien, Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin--and realize that, just as Jesus came and died to save me, he died for them as well.
It is, dare I say it, impossible.
But if the Bible teaches us anything, it teaches that favorite verse of the downtrodden, that favorite verse of those who face obstacles in their lives: Luke 1:37: "For nothing is impossible with God."
And that's the very heart of the Gospel; we, as broken, fallen sinners, are utterly incapable of loving our enemies. But with God we realize, as the songwriter Derek Webb put it so bluntly: "My enemies are men like me."
The day after the accident, I called home to talk to my mom again. We discussed the accident, and Mom said something very striking: "I'd just like to talk to the guy. I guess I want to ask him 'why.' Did he not have insurance? Did he think he didn't do any damage? Why'd he drive off?"
That is what it means to love your enemies, my readers. Not to desire revenge on them, and let them remain "that guy" - identity less, an abstraction - but to rather to see him as a human being, to hold out your hand to him when he hits your face, and to offer your coat when he gets cold.
The moment of the Gospel that breaks my heart the most is not Jesus being flogged, not Pontius Pilate washing his hands of the mess, or the crowd crying "Crucify Him!" No, it is that moment we find in the book of Luke, when Jesus is hanging, broken and bloodied on the cross, and he looks up to heaven and cries, "Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing."
It is only by this radical, life changing love that we can make a difference and truly learn to model Jesus. It's a complex, complicated, life, and it's not easy, but nothing worth having ever came easily, and this is the hardest task of them all.
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." - Matthew 5:43-48