I’ve been considering this week the idea of forgiving enemies. It started with a quote from Oscar Wilde (“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”) and then floated back to Jesus of Nazareth (“Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who persecute you.” From Matthew 5:44, pick a version, any version) and from there, the idea of hate being a poison you drink while simultaneously hoping someone else will drop dead. And then on to a Lao Tzu quote (“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”) which you know, I might just blog about separately.
And the biblical scholar in me is curious about some rather progressive scholars who suppose that Jesus didn’t actually say this, but that it might be something one of his students added that was actually from John the Baptist (the rabble-rousing Jewish teacher who came just before Jesus; and Jesus started as his student/follower). An argument against that attribution might quite validly be, ‘But Sare, this totally sounds like Jesus, the guy who preached the way of love!’
Fair point. But riddle me this, Batman: would the guy who loved everyone like God loved everyone – fully and completely without exception, no matter what – see anyone as an enemy?
That is, at least, the question that intrigues me, and the question that said progressive biblical scholars also ask.
So then, if Jesus said it, a more nuanced translation might be: Your enemies are not your enemies. Love them. All who you perceive as opposed to you, aren’t really: offer good for bad, no matter where you are, no matter what you think is happening.
And you know, I really struggle with such verses, even when I agree with them in theory. Not because I find it inconvenient to love or forgive my enemies (and whether or not Jesus said it, or John the Baptist said it, it’s a fine piece of advice more people could pick up) or to do good to those who hate me, or to bless those who curse me. These are things I do, actively, some of them daily.
No, I struggle with such verses because these are the sorts of verses that are often cited by offenders who wish to continue offending. And perhaps even worse: they are cited by the offended, making excuses for the people who hurt them. And while the offended parties are busy feeling ashamed and guilty for not forgiving or loving enough, the people who hurt them just keep on hurting them. Indeed, these are the sorts of verses that are taken out of context and used to explain away, excuse, or otherwise allow bad behavior. And that’s the part I’m really not okay with.
But you know, Jesus (or John) wasn’t teaching the people he was teaching in their role as offender. He was teaching a bunch of people in the role of offended. And he was saying, ‘here is the ideal, reach for this.’
Now when it came to offenders, John just screamed at them and called them a brood of vipers, and Jesus (at least once) lost his ever loving shit and started tossing over tables ‘cause he’d had it up to here with the Temple corruption. Except of course when it came to offenders facing punishments that in no way fit their crime. Then Jesus just dared the people: let the person who has never done anything wrong cast the first stone (they were gonna stone her to death), and when they all shame-facedly refrained, Jesus also refrained.
And where I come to, practically speaking, is this: The goal is complete healing, which will always include total forgiveness. And the path is your own – it always has been, and it always will be. Take as long as you need. Get as angry as you must. Cry all the tears you’ve ever held back, and then cry today’s allotment, too. Defend your own right to exist without persecution. Do it, if you possibly can, without destroying others, for their goal is also complete healing, and it is a better thing to help people along the path rather than to dig potholes in their road. And take a buddy with you as you go, for the nights are long and terrifying and the days are swelteringly hot and exhausting and you may well need a friend to hold the umbrella for you while you are lost in anger or grief, before you can find your way again. And when you are ready to find that way, Jesus (or John, or Buddha, or Mohammed, or Lao Tzu, or Elijah, or Marcus Aurelius, or Einstein, or Shakespeare) will be waiting to help you back home.