Enemy Image

A reflection on Matthew 5:44-46

Years ago in my New Testament class in seminary my professor, Dr. Robert Unmack would often sing, “What the world needs now is love sweet love.”  He would sing it with a sickingly sweet drool that would make us laugh.  I often wondered if he was making fun of the song or the concept.  Love.  In Matthew Jesus invites us to love our enemies and to even pray for those who persecute us.  What has developed is something totally different than what Dr. Unmack would sing or what Jesus invited us to do.  Why?

Let look at an example of what is happening.  You are driving and come to a stop light.  As you glance over to the side of the road you notice someone dressed differently than you.  This person is wearing clothes that are stained, has a long beard, is smoking a cigarette and is holding a sign that says, “Homeless, anything helps, God Bless You!”  What are your first thoughts?  Maybe they are: “Why should I give him money if he can afford cigarettes!” or “Get a job you lazy slob!” or maybe, “If I give him money he will just go out and buy drugs.”  These are thoughts that come to many when they see someone who is living on the outside.  Those living on the outside are addicted to drugs, they are lazy, they are an eyesore.  The first thoughts are enemy images of the person, seeing the person as lesser than, as an opponent of mine for the resources of the world.  After all, if I give him some money, I will have less and I worked hard for my money.

As we build our enemy image of the person on the corner we ease our thoughts and our conscience about the situation.  After all, he is lazy, addicted an eye sore, I shouldn’t give him anything, that will just encourage his bad behavior.  We are an outcome of cultural conditioning.  Making an enemy out of anyone who is not like us, who doesn’t think like us, who doesn’t look like us, etc.  So, we can make enemies out of those whose religion is different than ours, whose language is different than ours, whose background is not like ours.  We do this because we have been taught culturally that this is alright to do. We are taught to be fearful of those who are different.  Our religion tells us they are “sinners” and need to be left alone.  Tell me, how many articles have you read on the wonderful attributes of those who we label as homeless.  Now, tell me the number of articles you have read on the dangers of contributing to the homeless.  See!  The enemy image has been developed for us and we buy into it because it seems to fit the concept of those who are different are to be feared.

Now, we can ignore Dr. Unmack, and even ignore Jesus if we choose – but we cannot ignore the enemy image we have developed of others.  Jesus’s statement can seem like a demand for those who believe in his message of loving all.  I would like to rewrite it in empathic language, a language I believe he spoke before his words were written down.  First, the words found in Matthew:

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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  Mt. 5:44-46

Now in empathic language:  You have been taught to love only those who love you back, your family, your friends, those that are close to you.  But let me give you some wonderful insight.  When you contribute to others, whoever they are, when you help them connect to what they are feeling and needing then you will connect to the divine.  You know, life happens to all, there are ups and downs, but the Divine is present in all of life, in everyone, in all things.  When you are in sync with your needs you are in sync with God.  See, there is no enemy, there is no other, there just is those like you who are doing their best to meet there needs.

The person on the street corner might be feeling alone, scared, or frustrated and may need to be valued, or even to be seen as a human being.  When looking at him like that the enemy image is gone, he is a human like you and me journeying through this life.

Through compassionate understanding, through empathic communication, the enemy image is removed, we see the other person as human, we recognize there is only another who is trying to meet needs.  Jesus didn’t demand that we love our enemy, we can choose not to, he didn’t demand we pray for those who persecute us, we can choose not to.  No what he did was model for us a way to see the other in a way what was not as the “enemy.” But rather as a fellow traveler in whom we can connect to the Divine and celebrate life.   What the world needs now is love sweet love!

Joy to you!


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