What Helps Me Love My Enemies…

Here are some thoughts that help me to love my enemies:

1. I do a weekly quiet time on holy days and weekly Sabbaths. Yesterday, on the Day of Atonement, I studied I Samuel 1. The Encyclopedia Judaica‘s article on Peninnah says the following about Elkanah’s wife Peninnah, who had lots of children and taunted Elkanah’s childless wife, Hannah:

“[Peninnah] was…ultimately punished. Two of her children died whenever Hannah gave birth; and she thus witnessed the death of eight of her ten children. The last two were spared solely as a result of Hannah’s intercession with the Almighty on her behalf (PR, ibid., 182a).

That’s horrible! Whenever Hanna had a child, two of Peninnah’s kids died. There are plenty of people I can’t stand, but I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy!

Isn’t that what forgiveness is, in part? Freeing our enemies from punishment?

2. As I was fasting yesterday, some hateful thoughts entered my mind. I can be pretty mean when I’m hungry! But my hunger reminded me that I share something with the rest of humanity: I need to eat to survive. And the same is true of my enemies. That insight tended to make them more vulnerable and human in my eyes, so I didn’t hate them as much at that moment. But it also made me look more human. I often see myself as righteous, and my enemies as sub-human sinners. Not so! We’re all human beings, with the same needs.

I encountered the same idea this morning, when I read Sirach 8:4-7:

“Do not make fun of one who is ill-bred, or your ancestors may be insulted. Do not reproach one who is turning away from sin; remember that we all deserve punishment. Do not disdain one who is old, for some of us are also growing old. Do not rejoice over any one’s death; remember that we must all die.”

We’re all human! We sin, we grow old, and we die. So who are we to look down on someone else? We can hope that the other person chooses a better path, but we shouldn’t vaunt ourselves, as if we’re superior. All of us are vulnerable.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to What Helps Me Love My Enemies…

  1. Byker Bob says:

    Well, that bit of biblical history reminds me of the old BB King-U2 duet “When Love Comes to Town”.

    Yahweh was always concerned for peoples’ attitudes, whether one lived in Old Testament times, or New. A few months ago, I was quite amazed while reading the Psalms by the attitude expressed in one of the early Psalms towards those who speak hypocritically behind their friends’ backs. In this case, the Psalmist expressed a very Christ-like concept. Jesus detested hypocrisy, and certainly had much to say on attitudes, motives, and purity of the heart.

    In Old Covenant times, the concerns about attitude, and behavior modification, were often handled in an “eye for an eye” fashion, in other words, with the focus being on the physical rather than the spiritual. I believe this was by divine design so that we could appreciate the contrast between the times leading to Jesus Christ, and the new era which was ushered in by Jesus through the work He did in his ministry, and his work on the cross at Calvary.

    This can be difficult to grasp, though, and attitudes can vary widely when one reads the Old Testament. I’ve read comments over the years, written by Christians and atheists, expressing that the Old Testament God was warrior-like, and cruel. But my Jewish friends have always pointed out that they find much love in the God of the Torah, or Tanakh. In fact, some have marvelled at New Testament attitudes, such as that of St. Paul, who seemed to wish that his spiritual opponents, those teaching mandatory circumcision for Christians, would “slip” and accidentally cut the whole thing off. Based on relative perspective, some of the activities of either Old or New Testament are difficult to identify with, or understand. Sometimes the lesson might just be that our era today is the “good old days”.



  2. James Pate says:

    Thanks for your comments, Byker Bob. I agree that you see both types of concepts in both Testaments: love for enemies and justice.

    I’m thinking about this concept right now as I read the deutero-canonical book of Ben Sira/Sirach/Ecclesiasticus. On the one hand, he’s big on humility and not judging others for their looks or economic status. He even says that we shouldn’t look down on someone who repents, since we all deserve punishment.

    But he says elsewhere that we shouldn’t eat with sinners. He says that we should only give to good people, not to sinners, since sinners can then come back and bite our head off. There’s a lot of prudence in that. Isn’t that what happened in Saving Private Ryan? But it’s not exactly what we see in Proverbs and the New Testament: if your enemy is hungry, feed him.


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