But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
– Matthew 5:44
The feast of Mother Teresa of Calcutta on September 5th once again brings to mind this wonderful angel of mercy, a saint whom we have seen either in person or through the media, practicing the religion of love in its purest form. She was, perhaps, a living example of how Christians are expected to live and what our Lord meant when He summarized Christian religious practice into two clipped commandments–Love God and Love your neighbour. The biblical verse categorically concludes by saying ‘No other commandment is greater than these’ Mark 12:32.
Given the fundamental importance that Jesus Himself gave to this ostensibly simple act of loving others, it may be interesting to delve a little deeper into its intricacies from a Christian perspective. For most of us, loving the special people in our lives comes easily. In fact, many a time we go overboard with the expression of our feelings to friends, partners, parents and children. Unfortunately, this bracket of relationships hardly figures in Christ’s definition of true Christian life. He dismisses it with a perfunctory remark in Luke 6: 32 saying that it is no credit to love those who love you or to do good to those who do this for you, for even sinners do these things. The distinctiveness of Christian love falls into two other brackets, progressively higher in their respective difficulty level.
The first is in loving your neighbour. The definition of ‘neighbour’ comes well packaged in the story of the good Samaritan and, at least among Kerala’s educated and socially conscious society we have achieved some level of success in this area. At about this time last year, every one proved themselves as good neighbours, from helicopter pilots to fishermen to the ordinary man, woman and child on the street. Social consciousness is part of the curriculum of most educational institutions and CSR has become mandatory for businesses. Of course, there is much scope for improvement judging by the appalling economic disparity that still exists in society today, but we can hope to grow in the spirit of Christian giving that our Lord clearly presented as a necessary condition to attain eternal life – Matthew 19.
The next bracket is the problematic one which clearly says that we must love our enemies. If we close our eyes and think of those who have harmed us, and whom we consider as enemies, many of us may fail to live up to Christian expectations. Enemies are everywhere—in our homes, our places of work, among our social circles. Enemies also transcend time when we cannot reconcile with those who existed in our childhood and caused deep wounds within our psyche. For those who have been victims of caste attacks or political plots, the enemy can go beyond the individual and become an entire group that becomes collectively responsible for the harm that is inflicted. The difficult question here is how to wade through the psychological debris that has collected over years of nurturing ill will, and finally reach a point of reconciliation with our enemy and with the Lord. There are two steps involved – one is to forgive and the other is to begin to feel a positive emotion of love for one’s enemy. Depending on the intensity of the existing hate relationship, neither step is willingly or easily taken.
Marshall Rosenberg, a world famous psychologist and counsellor has worked with individuals as well as groups in order to see what solutions can be applied to situations where reconciliation seems almost impossible. He explains that the biggest block is caused because people confront each other at the level of feelings. A husband comes home late and faces his weeping wife who shouts at him for being drunk and neglectful. The husband walks out again and doesn’t come home all night. What Rosenberg suggests is that one must be able to understand the need that is being conveyed through the other’s words or actions. For this, one has to restrain from instantly reacting to unpleasant words or situations and search for the need which is causing the opposing partner to act harshly. Only then can people work out a reconciliation that will ultimately lead them to forgive and finally to love their enemies.
Whatever path we choose to take, our destination is clear. There is no compromise or half way solution for a practicing Christian. Like Mother Teresa, we must be able to lift ourselves above the here and now and allow the love of Christ to lead us into reconciliation and love in relationships with our fellow human beings.