Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Love thine enemy

In Matthew 5, after the Beatitudes, we have a passage which cuts to the core of the Christian message. The text records a speech by Jesus. It may or may not be true that the speech actually captures a specific event - the so-called Sermon on the Mount - but let us imagine that it does.


Oral memory of that day, in a natural amphitheatre overlooking the Sea of Galilee (I have stood in the exact spot where the sermon is said to have taken place), eventually written down by Matthew many years after Jesus' death, suggests that He said,

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.."

This is the St. James rendition of those words. I prefer them to more modern translations.

The details and the truth of whether the Sermon on the Mount was a once-only occasion, or a dramatisation of what Jesus said many times, are ultimately irrelevant. At its depth, the teaching is what shines through, not the question of literal truth.

Loving our friends, our family, our lovers is easy. Loving our enemies, those that want to harm us, those who are not like us, those who reject our beliefs, those who would do violence to us because of our beliefs... how many of us have the depth of humanity for that kind of love? In quiet moments, we close our eyes, breathe and perhaps realise that we are not ready for it, yet.

Loving thine enemy is also at the core of Buddhism, and features in several stories of Guatama Siddhartha's life (itself, heavily fictionalised by the passage time and the countless generational waves of human longing and institutionalised codification).

The meditation called 'meta bhavana' (loving kindness) turns this passage from love of friends and of what constitutes 'the same' to love of the enemy and what constitutes 'the other' into a spiritual practice. Meta bhavana has five stages: projecting loving kindness onto oneself; projecting it onto the friend or loved one; projecting love onto the neutral person and then projecting loving kindness onto 'the enemy' - someone who threatens us or offers only conflict. Finally, the fifth stage involves projecting love onto all parties and ultimately, towards the universe and all living beings.

Meta bhavana is a powerful technique. It is capable of transfiguring experience and the framework of experience. If it sounds esoteric at first, we can quickly realise that it is based on the simple thought that Jesus had already uncovered and lived up until the moment of his death: that spiritual liberation comes through loving not only friends and family, but also those who constitute a threat and who are different.

At base, with thoughts like this pulled inside us and held close, differences between religions melt away, and we finally allow ourselves to confront human truths without imaginary distortion. We see the road less travelled ahead of us and we realise that Jesus and Guatama Siddhartha and countless others have walked along that path thousands of years ago. Even today, people are branching off and beginning their journey, leaving material possessiveness and the illusory world of desire behind.

And we realise how futile and self-destructive it is to continue 'hating the enemy'. As if we ever could have gleaned that truth without contortion from the teachings of the Gospels...

15 comments:

Myne Whitman 5:25 am  

Wow, Jeremy, I didn't know you could preach like this. I do totally agree with you but it seems this message is yet to sink into the majority of the world's population. Nigeria is not exempt and more painful is that the churches are the champions of the rush your enemy mantra. That sign is apt.

Cheta 5:54 am  

How will life be interesting if we all love our enemies?

SHE 7:28 am  

Well said, Jeremy.
Hate does no one any good.

Yinka Ibukun 1:27 pm  

a lovely reminder.

joicee 5:56 pm  

Well why I am not surprised.The irony is that there are churches in naija fuel the spread superstition and hate, sad but true.

Anonymous,  9:50 pm  

i wish i could believe the sincerity of your comment, and unfortunately i am reading it on a very bad day, but i remember your behaviour towards me and others as cruel and contemptuous. i never knew what i had done to offend you, other than exist. i still can't forgive you. i wish i could. perhaps that would allow me to feel free to live in the present

Anonymous,  6:17 am  

Jeremy, do stop attempting to preach from the Bible!

There is a distinction between an enemy and 'The Enemy' (satan).

When a Christian speaks of 'dislocating your enemy', it is a reference to satanic enemy, which no Christian is enjoined to love!

Jeremy 8:59 am  

Last anonymous. You say:
"When a Christian speaks of 'dislocating your enemy', it is a reference to satanic enemy, which no Christian is enjoined to love!"

This really proves my point. As if the concept of a satanic enemy has a place in Christianity. And as we know, the distinction between an individual enemy and 'the Satanic enemy' you mention always collapses.

Previous anonymous: sorry to hear you are having a bad day. And I apologise profoundly for whatever it was (whenever it was) I did that was so cruel and contemptuous.

What I would say is two things:

1. One can have the thought and the desire to live a life of loving kindness, and most often fail. That is the human weakness and the human opportunity. Failure to live up to the words one espouses doesn't invalidate them.

2. Whatever it was that happened, you should let go of it. Forgiveness is one thing, but allowing the past to be the past and to move on is another.

Once again, whatever it was, I'm sorry. Embrace your present and all the possibilities locked inside..

Heal Thyself!,  9:33 am  

Love thine enemy, that's rich, coming from you. You are a good one to preach it, the way you and your rabid wife go around destroying people with your relentless poison, your never ending malice, your unfailing belief that you alone are right. You destroy everything and everyone that does not have your stamp of approval. God will judge you.

Bible basher,  10:10 am  

Preaching Goodwill to all Men, now, are we, Jeremy? The Bible also said: by their fruit you shall know them.

damola 3:03 pm  

To understand why the enemy is such a central focus of the current crop of Nigerian churches, I think you need to look to indigenous beliefs about the cause of misfortune rather than Jesus's teachings about community. In Yoruba thought, for example, witchcraft (aje), household enemies (ota ile) and lineage enemies (ota idile) can be responsible for misfortune (ofo/agbako). It is also important to recognize that these adversaries are viewed as people acting in the metaphysical realm so that in the physical realm they could very well be acting amiably. In fact, it is the intimacy of the enemy (they are never strangers or distant) and the chance that you might not know who they are that provokes so much anxiety. In that context, to say 'love your enemy' is to say 'embrace misfortune'. It is the pentecostals' willingness to respond to these beliefs and provide tools to manage anxieties about misfortune that is partly responsible for their popularity.

Jeremy 3:19 pm  

Thanks Damola.

Re: Heal Thyself - such venom! It will go well with you...

Amy,  6:33 pm  

@anon 9.50 - hey shit happens man! who knows who you have unwittingly offended. At least he has asked for forgiveness. Also, why don't you send him an email to show your identity so that he can truly ask for your forgiveness then you'll know his level of sincerity. If you remain anon, it will forever bug you and not him.

@Heal Thyself - wow!! gosh, I know both of them and they have VERY VERY strong opinons, but malice, wow that's surprising!!

But what's so wrong with 'unfailing belief that you alone are right?' In some quarters, it will be called confidence.

'God will judge you.' - But they don't believe in God.

Anyway, sha! this is a nice post from Jeremy. But as for mi, I cannot love my enemy O!

semper 4:17 pm  

The old King (he was no Saint, sadly) James Bible is certainly quoteable. Like the other commentators I think the pentecostal/pagan idea of "enemy spirits" is in view on that advert.

The Sermon on the Mount is an uncompromised glimpse of goodness - what holiness in human form would look like. Jesus contrasts that perfection with the relative compromise of the Law of Moses which was a more "practical" law suited to the necessities of running a nation.

Jesus lived it and died it. The best of his followers has only made a poor approximation to it. We need God to forgive our virtues as well as our vices.

As for Jos, there is a drive to dominate the area by the Hausa/Fulani which has a religious element. I would prefer the indigenes who are fighting against this colonisation to identify themselves as "Kaffirs" or similar in the old tradition of wearing your enemy's insult as a badge.

Even when a Christian feels fighting is necessary he can not claim the sanction of Jesus because of this very passage.

Jeremy Cushing 10:08 pm  

We all need to love one another.

Thats what we need to do.

Jeremy Cushing

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