As I look out the window of the DC-3 as we were landing in North Aleuthra, I see the rusted-out carcasses of those planes which evidently did not make it. A one room little shack is the “terminal” and customs entry. Once out the front door, looking for a cab, across the street is another small building. On the side of that building are the words of Jesus in the sixth chapter of Luke: Love Your Enemies – It will drive them Crazy – And Cold Beer!
Perhaps that’s what he imagined among the soon to be ruins of Jerusalem, that cosmopolitan city under intense military occupation by Caesar who believes he is god: Zealots from the north, Priests and Political Leaders in the South, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, foreigners from all over the ancient world, Governor Pilate and Centurions all sitting down together to enjoy a cold-one and enjoying being with one another.
Love your enemies he says. Which in the Biblical traditions he embraced with his whole heart, mind and soul, meant something more like, “When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free.” [Exodus 23:4-5] Or, perhaps this from Proverbs, 25: 21-22: If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink…”
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you… Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back." [Luke 6:27-38]
After reading all of that over and over again, even sitting down with a cold-one to ponder these words Jesus utters after his Blessings and Woes, the immediate impulse usually is to say, “Really, do I have to? Do we have to?”
Martin King, Mahatma Gandhi, Tich Nhat Hanh, and countless others who have tried living out of these words of Jesus would no doubt say, “Yes, it is the only way out of all of our current situations in which we refuse to allow ourselves to imagine this is sort of love is possible and productive.” The great Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart reminds us, “All paths lead to God, for God is in them all equally for the person who knows it.”
Reflecting Luke chapter 6, Tich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who has devoted his life to Peace, asserts that when we look deeply into that which separates us, we see that “the person you call your enemy is also suffering. As soon as you see that, the capacity of accepting and having compassion for him is there. Jesus called this ‘loving your enemy’. When you are able to love your enemy, he or she is no longer your enemy. The idea of enemy vanishes and is replaced by the notion of someone who is suffering and needs your compassion. Doing this is sometimes easier than you might have imagined, but you need to practice. If you read the Bible but don’t practice, it will not help much. In Buddhism, practicing the teaching of the Buddha is the highest form of prayer. The Buddha said, ‘If someone is standing on one shore and wants to go to the other shore, he has to either use a boat or swim across. He cannot just pray, “Oh, other shore, please come over here for me to step across.”’ To a Buddhist, praying without practicing is not real prayer.” Living Buddha, Living Christ (Riverhead Books, NY: 1995) p.78-79
I believe Jesus, much like the Hebrew Prophets, Socrates, Lao T’zu, Confucius, and the Buddha before him, says these seemingly impossible things to spark our imaginations in such a way as to see that it is possible to move beyond that which seems to be hopeless. That to bridge our differences is not only possible but necessary. That to let go of the old ways and walk in the ways of the world’s great Wisdom Traditions is the only way. All this loving, doing good and praying for others, especially others we do not like at all, and do not like us, is the only way forward.
And it all begins with me – with each of us, one at a time allowing our imaginations to free us from the prison of our own hate, distrust, and self-loathing. We have got to either take a boat with others to cross the rivers of hate and distrust, or jump in and swim across on our own, not waiting for others to join us.
If we are going to love our neighbor as we love ourselves; if we are to do to others as we would have them do to us, we need to begin loving ourselves. Then, and only then, how much judging and condemnation do we have to give up and let go? If we want forgiveness, how much are we willing to forgive? Can we begin with loving ourselves just a little bit more so that we might begin to love others, even our enemies and those who hate us?
Jesus also says, “Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” God’s mercy knowns no bounds, no boundaries, no conditions. The sun shines on the just and the unjust. The rain pours down on the good and the bad. God is an equal opportunity provider of mercy. We are to be merciful as God is merciful – as we want God to be merciful to us.
Jesus says these things, I believe, so that we might Imagine all this not judging, not condemning, all this loving and doing good is possible. When I Google the word “Imagine,” the first entry that pops up is this video of John Lennon singing the song inspired by a poem, Cloud Piece, of Yoko Ono’s:
Imagine the clouds dripping,
dig a hole in your garden
to put them in.
Spring 1963 [from Grapefruit, Simon & Schuster Ltd (2000)]
John Lennon and Yoko Ono could imagine what Jesus was talking about. The question remains, can we? And if we can, are we ready to take the boat or swim our way to the other shore? If so, perhaps it will be time to share a cold-one with those we think are enemies but in the end are only strangers like us.