Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Do You have Enemies?

The writers of the Psalms are very transparent about their feelings.  In the 150 chapters of the book, one can find hymns of praise, celebration, wisdom, and anger.  Those expressing personal anger are usually called psalms of lamentation.  They are very candid—beseeching God to regard and deal with the problems of the psalmist and/or the people. They sometimes sound like they are accusing God for their problems but they usually come back to acknowledging God’s care.

Most often the writer strikes a balance as in Psalm 9:13-14, NRSV:

“Be gracious to me, O Lord.
See what I suffer from those who hate me;
 you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death,
 so that I may recount all your praises,
 and, in the gates of daughter Zion,
rejoice in your deliverance.”

In this psalm, the writer also uses the term “enemies” to refer to those who cause the writer suffering.  Too often, we think that this approach of dividing humankind into two categories—evil and good—is a manifestation of a judgmental, “fire and brimstone,” Old Testament manifestation of God.  Jesus was not afraid to recognize, however, that some people would be our enemies or that we would regard them as such.

Jesus acknowledged that we will have “enemies” when he said in Matthew 5:43-48:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (NRSV)

We always have the possibility that someone will oppose us for some reason.  It may be a moral issue, a petty disagreement, or a misunderstanding, but we do not live in a harmonious world but a fallen world.  Walls go up very quickly.

The difference in the approach of the psalmist and that of Christ is one of attitude. The psalmist is seeking vindication or deliverance from one’s enemies.  On the other hand, Jesus taught his disciples to pray for one’s enemies.  What divides us may be so deep that only the Spirit of God can bring reconciliation or clarity; therefore, Jesus calls for prayer for those who disagree with us or attack us.  In so doing, we might even change our own attitude.

I would suggest another practice when we are burdened by enemies.  We can be thankful for those who stand with us and support us.  They may not always see our point or agree with our position, but they love us and are willing to accept us as we are!  We can be thankful for those who are friends and not concentrate so much on our enemies.

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