One of the most challenging commands of Jesus is the call to love our enemies. What once seemed like a virtuous bit of moral sentimentalism or a religious ideal becomes utterly impossible in the wake of great betrayal.
Why does Jesus call us to love our enemies? Is it just because He feels like it? Well, I believe the reasons are manifold. God loves His enemies. Jesus, the Son, loved His enemies. And we are called to follow Him.
But even more practically, He calls us to love our enemies because it is good for us. I don't mean it is good for us like it is good to run 10 miles every morning, as we peel the blisters off our feet and think about how such a strain promotes good health. That may be true. It does build character. However, I believe He calls us to love our enemies because it frees us.
Hatred of our enemies -holding them hostage in our minds, wishing for their demise, and following ever strand of activity, demanding that it result in utter justice and the righteous downfall of our foe- imprisons us. We become the punished. The yoke of hating our enemies is a yoke that casts us to the ground, impedes our life, covers our light, and sours our soul.
But to look at your enemy and be able to let go of all outcomes concerning them, to be able to wish them well and to pray for them, frees the soul to enjoy and receive love and blessings from God and others.
"But how can I do so? Look at what they have done to me, and what if they do it again?" Well, don't misunderstand what it means. Jesus still calls them our "enemies." We love our enemies. We do not pretend they are friends who are safe to encounter and allow within our borders. It has to do with an attitude of the heart toward them, and it manifests itself in action. But that action is wise action, informed action. If there is a need to wisely protect ourselves and those we love, then so be it. But our disposition can still be one of good will, letting go, non-competition, and peace toward them.
Bonhoeffer says you accomplish this when you see them for what they are... people whom Christ loves, for whom Christ died. I would add one thing. You accomplish this, as well, when you see how heavy the burden of hatred, bitterness, competitiveness, and tension is to carry. When you are done carrying such a burden, then you see the peace found in letting them go as attractive. Then, even when you feel the sting of watching them do what it is they do, you can let it go, entrust yourself to God, entrust yourself to the truth and to the knowledge that He will bring about a day when everything comes to light, let them go, and wish them peace.