WHO IS YOUR ENEMY?
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 Kings 21:17-19; Mt 5:43-48 ]
In the first reading, we read of the exploits of King Ahab. After murdering Naboth, he went down to his vineyard to take possession of it. The murder was motivated by greed and envy. For committing such a heinous crime, the Lord told Elijah to say to Ahab, “The Lord says this: You have committed murder; now you usurp as well. For this – and the Lord says this – in the place where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth, the dogs will lick your blood too.” The evil we do to others will often come back to us as well.
It is significant that when Elijah confronted Ahab with the Word of God, he said, “So you have found me out, O my enemy.” How could God or Elijah, since he was acting in His name, be the enemy of Ahab? God, through Elijah, wished only good for King Ahab and his people. God is a God who saves and cares for His people, Israel. If God had asked Elijah to mete out the punishment to Ahab, it was because if his crimes continued unchecked, he would not only destroy himself but the entire people of Israel. God does not seek to punish us but to make us come to repentance. It is His hope that through our sufferings, we will come to be awakened to our sins and the consequences of our sins so that together with the psalmist we could say, “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offence. O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. My offences truly I know them; my sin is always before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned; what is evil in your sight I have done.”
So Ahab was mistaken to perceive Elijah as his enemy when in fact he was his real friend. He regarded Elijah as his enemy because he was evil. “And indeed, there never was anyone like Ahab for double-dealing and for doing what is displeasing to the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the most abominable way, adhering to idols, just as the Amorites used to do whom the Lord had dispossessed for the sons of Israel.” Isn’t this the way we feel when good people threaten our position and prevent us from achieving our selfish desires? We often get angry with our spouse when we are caught having an affair. Children are resentful of their parents when they are disciplined for not paying attention to their studies and for not using their time judiciously. Bad bosses who are arrogant or have their own agenda cannot tolerate their subordinates who question their integrity, impartiality and justice. Indeed, we consider them our enemies when they go against us even though they mean well for us. This was true of Jesus. He regarded no one as His enemy, but the Jewish leaders saw Him as a threat to their status quo, their popularity and position in society.
Consequently, in the gospel, Jesus asks us to pray for our enemies. “You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike.” Even for those who regard us as their enemies, we must not regard them as such. We must pray for them and love them. “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called – that you might inherit a blessing.” (1 Pt 3:9) St Peter exhorts us, “Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” (1 Pt 3:15-18) We must show no hostility towards wicked and evil people but like Jesus, pray for them, saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34)
Indeed, Christians must be seen to be different from others. We must not perceive anyone as our enemy. Rather, we should feel sorry for those who sin and those who hurt us. This is because, as the Lord said, they are ignorant. They are blinded by their wounds, their insecurity, their selfishness and pride. Christians must transcend our enemies. The Lord reminds us, “For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not?” We should act in compassion for them and for those they hurt.
Our task is to turn our enemies into our friends. Our task is to heal. We must not take their vindictiveness personally. This is the best way to win our enemies over, by love, forgiveness and understanding. The passion, death and resurrection of our Lord means that hatred and sin do not have the last word but love and life. We should not allow evil to overcome goodness. Rather, we must follow Elijah in patiently and persistently seek to show them the way. We must be the watchmen for the House of Israel, the People of God, to warn them of the consequences of their evil deeds. This was what Elijah said to Ahab, “For your double dealing, and since you have done what is displeasing to the Lord, I will now bring disaster down on you; I will sweep away your descendants, and wipe out every male belonging to the family of Ahab, fettered or free in Israel. I will treat your House as I treated the House of Jeroboam son of Nebat and of Baasha son of Ahijah, for provoking my anger and leading Israel into sin. (Against Jezebel too the Lord spoke these words: The dogs will eat Jezebel in the field of Jezreel.) Those of Ahab’s family who die in the city, the dogs will eat; and those who die in the open country, the birds of the air will eat.”
Indeed, Elijah was able to bring Ahab to repentance because of his persistence. Elijah was his friend after all. Hence, we read that “when Ahab heard these words, he tore his garments and put sackcloth next to his skin and fasted; he slept in the sackcloth; he walked with slow steps.” Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Since he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring disaster in his days; I will bring the disaster down on his House in the days of his son.” Such is the compassion of God and His mercy. Clearly, God does not take revenge on our sins. The moment Ahab repented, the Lord forgave him. God heard his prayers, “From my sins turn away your face and blot out all my guilt. O rescue me, God, my helper, and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.”
Unfortunately, his children copied his bad examples and they suffered the consequences eventually. That is why we must realize the seriousness of our sins. The Lord warned us of the dire consequences of our sins for generations to come when He said, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex 20:5f) We must not take it literally that God is the one who punishes us. Rather, the consequences of our sins will affect the future generations as well because children imitate their parents in their sins. It behooves us therefore to save our children from sin by living a good life.
Loving our enemies and seeing them as our brothers and sisters who are ignorant is what the Lord expects of us when He said, “You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This perfection is not a moral perfection. It is to be as compassionate as the Father is towards us. Since God has been merciful to us, we must show mercy towards those who perceive us as their enemies. Otherwise the Lord will say to us, “’I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Mt 18:32-35)
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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