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Step 2: Find the good in your enemy

January 17, 2024
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Daily Scripture

Luke 7:1-10

1 After Jesus finished presenting all his words among the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion had a servant who was very important to him, but the servant was ill and about to die. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to Jesus to ask him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they earnestly pleaded with Jesus. “He deserves to have you do this for him,” they said. 5 “He loves our people and he built our synagogue for us.”
6 Jesus went with them. He had almost reached the house when the centurion sent friends to say to Jesus, “Lord, don’t be bothered. I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 In fact, I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to you. Just say the word and my servant will be healed. 8 I’m also a man appointed under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and the servant does it.”
9 When Jesus heard these words, he was impressed with the centurion. He turned to the crowd following him and said, “I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.” 10 When the centurion’s friends returned to his house, they found the servant restored to health.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

From a transcript of Dr. King’s sermon “Loving Your Enemies” (Nov. 17, 1957): “A second thing that an individual must do in seeking to love his enemy is to discover the element of good in his enemy…. within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals.” *
From Dr. King’s book Strength to Love (1963): Second, we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy. **

Today’s passage showed that bridges of understanding are possible even between enemies. Where Jesus lived, Jews and the occupying Romans were the definition of enemies. Yet local Jewish leaders cared enough about the Centurion to advocate for him to Jesus (v. 3). The Centurion loved the Jewish people and helped them build a synagogue (v. 5). The Centurion trusted in Jesus’ healing power (vv. 6-8). Jesus was “impressed” with the Centurion’s faith and healed the servant (vv. 9-10).

  • Love can build bridges of understanding, even and perhaps especially with our “enemies.” But that doesn’t happen on its own. It takes time and intentionality. As you read about the interaction of the Roman centurion (a commander of 100 soldiers), the Jewish leaders in Capernaum, and Jesus, what steps do their story suggest that you might take today to show love for your “enemies”? How could you seek to understand them better? What needs of theirs might you meet?
  • In September, 1957, the governor of Arkansas had sent soldiers to stop nine African-American teens from attending a segregated school. President Eisenhower had to send federal troops weeks later to escort those students into school. So, Dr. King urged his listeners to look for the good even in people actively opposing Civil Rights. Human imperfections never excuse injustice, but how can seeing our own flaws help us look for the good in people who act unjustly?
Prayer

Lord Jesus, there were many reasons for you and your disciples to fear and hate Roman soldiers. Yet you saw the good in this Roman and healed his servant. Give me eyes like yours that look for the good. Amen.

GPS Insights

Amy Oden

Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden is Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality, teaching at several seminaries. Teaching is her calling, and she looks forward to every day with students. Her latest book (Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness, Abingdon Press, 2017) traces ancient mindfulness practice for Christians today.

In Strength to Love (1963), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addresses the difficulty of loving our enemies: “Second, we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy.” The word “enemy” is a strong word and it’s easy to assume that I don’t have any. Until I remember the folks I scoff at or dismiss or call crazy or hold in contempt, especially during presidential elections.

Science has revealed we are prone to “confirmation bias,” paying attention only to the pieces of information that confirm what we already think about a person or group and ignoring anything that challenges our bias. So, we tend to vilify a whole group with whom we disagree, to think the worst about our enemy.

For me, responding to Dr. King’s invitation to find good “even in our worst enemy,” requires an act of imagination. I have to actively work to imagine that person’s hopes and dreams, life struggles and wounds, deep loves and disappointments.

If I cannot find even a tiny morsel of good, then it is I who have failed to sufficiently imagine what might be true, beyond my perception or logic or confirmation bias. If I truly believe that God is present and working in all things, then God must be present and working in that person or group. It’s not that God’s not there, it’s that I fail to see it.

When I can exercise my muscle of imagination, then sometimes, not always, I have “eyes to see” God’s life in the world around me, as Jesus describes, even in my enemy.

One starting imagination practice is to picture yourself on your knees before God, however you image God, in a posture of surrender and openness. Allow God’s light and love to pour over you, permeating you with mercy and grace. Now picture an enemy kneeling next to you, also in a posture of surrender and openness before God, also receiving God’s light and love, mercy and grace. You do not have to love that enemy or even speak in this visualization. Just allow yourself to imagine both yourself and that person equally before God and receiving love.

Admittedly, this may be really hard! However, we can lean into the source of love, God’s own heart, rather than try to summon it on our own. Sometimes the best I can do is trust that God is fully loving that person or group. Then, maybe, just maybe I can ride on those coattails of love. As a baby step, a starting place.

May sacred imagination embolden us to love. Amen.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
References

* https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/loving-your-enemies-sermon-delivered-dexter-avenue-baptist-church
** Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love (King Legacy) (p. 45). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.