Having Enemies

By Erica Lloyd, Seekers Church,
Church of the Saviour
from Inward/Outward/Together, June 25, 2022

Most of us will admit that there are parts of the Bible we skip over – all the “begats,” particularly dry parts of Leviticus, the confusing imagery of Revelation. But I pay pretty close attention to the gospels, which is why it was surprising that this brief vignette at the beginning of today’s passage* was totally unfamiliar – I can’t recall a single sermon about Jesus scolding James and John because they want to rain fire down from heaven on the inhospitable Samaritans.

It’s one of those passages that we just skip right over because… well, why? Because James and John seem almost silly in their disproportionate lust for vengeance? Because surely good Christians know this is not the way to treat your enemies?

But these reasons probably wouldn’t hold up if I could read this story with a genuine understanding of the enmity between Samaritans and Jews, if I could feel it in my body the way I do things that enrage me: white supremacists with their guns, billionaires playing fast and loose with our democracy, politicians who insist on letting people suffer and die. While I’ve never suggested firebombing anyone, I certainly had complicated feelings about certain leaders contracting COVID. If I’m honest, the desire for revenge is not at all foreign to me; it frequently simmers right under the surface. Recently at Seekers, a few folks wondered aloud whether they would assassinate Vladimir Putin if they had the chance. It was honest and uncomfortable and, like most uncomfortable conversations in polite company, ended quickly.

We don’t know how to talk about our enemies; it’s strange and disconcerting to even use the word. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I work my way through Melissa Florer-Bixler’s How to Have an Enemy: Righteous Anger and the Work of Peace. Florer-Bixler argues that we must learn to properly identify and name our enemies in order to rightly go about the work of loving them. Like James and John, we need to air our hostility so that Jesus can help us think rightly about it. As Florer-Bixler says, “…my prayers of wrath, seething with demands for punishment and revenge, revealed that my own incoherent and blistering rage would do nothing to set me and others down in the renewed order of God’s creation.”

Our anger and enmity can point us towards the world we are longing for, towards the one who promises to make all things new – but only if we are brave enough to face them.

*Luke 9:51-54
… he set out for Jerusalem and sent messengers ahead. They entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him, but they did not receive him. When James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” He turned and rebuked them.