Reflection - Love your enemies


I once visited Papua New Guinea and accompanied my friend, a patrol officer, on his ten days of administrative rounds. He hired men from the village to carry his equipment, but when they got to the second village, they dumped their loads on the outskirts. They were afraid to enter for fear of revenge against them because of a historic offence.

Revenge can divide regions, communities, families and friends. The Old Testament law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was meant to control excessive revenge. And Cicero said in 106 BC, “Let the punishment fit the crime”.

However, in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 5:38–42), Jesus teaches something much more revolutionary. Don't seek any revenge at all for an offence received - instead, love your enemies.

This is the centre of Jesus' teaching. A person is fully human when all their actions are directed by love and not by hate or even self-defence.

We probably never take violent revenge against someone we think has offended us. We are subtler. We shut that person out by silently ignoring them. That is more harmful. It is like poison gas that cannot be seen but causes great damage.

True followers of Jesus are called to take the first step even when they feel that what happened was not their fault. It is a hard saying, but we cannot walk away if we believe that Jesus has the words of eternal life.

Columban Fr Don Hornsey lives and works in New Zealand.  

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