Love your enemies

Enniskillen war memorial
Enniskillen in more peaceful times (Photo: Dean Molyneaux)

Jesus is different. He asks us to live in a way that is contrary to the rest of the world. We humble ourselves to become great; to receive, we give away. It’s challenging and often difficult to do. Yet when we do these things, our example has power to change the world. Of all Jesus’ commands none is more challenging than to “Love your enemies”.

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31)

Loving your enemies also includes forgiving them – something misunderstood by so many. In the UK one of the greatest examples of love and forgiveness in recent years happened 25 years ago this month on 8th November 1987, when the IRA detonated a bomb that killed eleven people and injured 68 in the town of Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. It was Remembrance Sunday. Committed Christian Gordon Wilson and his twenty year old daughter Marie were standing at the war memorial when the bomb went off. Marie died from the injuries she received in the explosion. Following the tragedy, Gordon Wilson was interviewed by the BBC. “I bear no ill will to anybody nor does my wife,” he said. He also added that he had prayed for the bombers.

“The words that he spoke during that interview went global, touching the hearts of millions including the Queen,” wrote Mervyn Jess of BBC News. Many believe that the huge media coverage along with Gordon Wilson’s reaction transformed it from a tragedy to a turning point in the troubled history of Northern Ireland.

Citizens of Mogadishu
Peace slowly returning to Mogadishu

This week’s ‘Unreported World’ documentary shown this week on the UK’s Channel 4 showed that it’s not just followers of Jesus that have the will to forgive. Ahmed Jama Mohamed arrived in the UK as a child, where he trained as a chef and set up a successful restaurant before returning to war-torn Somalia, leaving his wife and children in the relative safety of London. His aim, to bring peace and normality back to his homeland.

On the Channel 4 website, Aidan Hartley, a journalist with many years experience of Somalia, writes: “Ahmed Jama is a man who serves up hope one meal at a time for a people spat out and exhausted by war. His one-man peace process is to cook comfort food, to bring Somalis back to the table in Mogadishu to enjoy a meal with loved ones, to provide them with the space to enjoy time talking, to pass the time – something that endless, total war has denied them for almost a generation.” Just days before filming, two suicide bombers burst in, shooting at customers before blowing themselves up in his restaurant. Twenty people were murdered. The Islamist perpetrators gloated over the deaths and promised to strike again. When asked if he felt angry and resentful, Ahmed Jama replied, “We have to show forgiveness.”

It is in responding to the difficulty of God’s challenge to love our enemies that we recognise afresh our inability to be all that God calls us to be. Even the apostle Paul, who, as a follower of Jesus, never seemed to put a foot wrong, admitted “I know that good doesn’t live in me—that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it.” (Romans 7:18) If our world is to live in peace, we personally need to be made anew. No wonder Jesus said: “You must be born again.” (John 3:7)

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Finding rest

Sunset over a lake
Have we no time to stand and stare?

“This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it and you will find rest for your souls.”  (Jeremiah 6:16)

So wrote the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah circa 600 BCE. Today’s busy, 21st Century lifestyle precludes time to rest. Instead Western society panders to our materialistic desires, leaving us unsatisfied and spiritually thirsty. In Jeremiah’s time there was a spiritual aspect to life that, on the whole, we have lost. Yet even then the Creator needed to speak through Jeremiah to point people to the source of true and perfect rest. Consider for a moment the words of this well-loved poem by Wm. Henry Davies (1871-1940):

LEISURE

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if,  full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

By not slowing down, we lose so much. Almost three thousand years ago, King Solomon wrote, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) It is when we take time to rest that we can most fully appreciate our spiritual side.

Look again at Jeremiah’s words; it is only by following what is good, being unfettered by conscience or anxiety, that we find true rest. It was Jesus who said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11 v28-30)