Chelsea Van Der Poel explores how regardless the season, God's goodness creates a hopeful new day.
On the sixteenth day of Advent, 2021, Dr Sally Longley challenges us with a question - ‘How can you tell when the night has ended and a new day begun?’
Loving our enemies
You have heard that it was said, ‘“You shall love your neighbour 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.
Matthew 5:43-48 NRSV
There is a story that a Rabbi asked his student, “How can you tell when the night has ended a new day begun? The students struggled to see what he was getting at – When the sun appears on the horizon? The sounds of the cock crowing?
The Rabbi shook his head. ‘No,” he said. “We know when night has ended, when we can look on the face of our enemy and see that it is our brother or our sister. If we cannot see that, it is still night. Either we embrace the God who causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and the rains to pour down on the righteous and the unrighteous, or we may have no more sunrises. We stay in the dark, and there will be no new day.”
Jesus points very clearly to love of enemies, and that then must mean a resolute non-violence. So, a spirituality of loving our enemies involves a shift in our attitudes and our behaviour.
“You have heard it was said…” invites us to move from
unlimited retaliation (both eyes for an eye)
to limited retaliation (an eye for an eye)
to limited love (love your neighbour and hate your enemy)
to unlimited love (love your enemies).
Love of enemies means non-violence, which includes structural non-violence. This is right not necessarily “because it works” (whatever that may mean), so much as because it is the way of Jesus. It is not transactional. It is not: “I will love you so that you will change or I will be safe”, but rather: “I will love you, because I myself am loved unconditionally by God”. This signals an interior movement in our allegiance, from Kyrios Kaeser to Kyrios Christos – a posture of allegiance to Christ alone.
We all have enemies to some degree or other. Is it the person that threatens me and my position on vaccination? Or the one who holds an opposing theological or ecological view? Is it a person of another race that I feel threatens my current way of life? Or is it a neighbour that gets under my skin and I “just can’t stand them”?
Answering these questions honestly before God can help us know what we need to do to let go and begin to see the other as a brother, sister, a person made in the image of God. And this will take us out of the darkness, and help usher in a new day!
Please note: This reflection does not apply to enemies that are an abuser. Situations of abuse, including the very real presence and action of a certain type of enemy, warrants an approach for the one suffering abuse of protection, safety, and justice. If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence or abuse call:
1800 Respect National Helpline: 1800 737 732
Women's Crisis Line: 1800 811 811
Men's Referral Service: 1300 766 491
Lifeline: 131 114
Dr Sally Longley is a Spiritual Director, Supervisor and Retreat Leader based in Sydney, on Garigal Country. Sally has built the Chartres Labyrinth with her husband as well as a ‘wild’ classic labyrinth among the trees at Canisius Retreat Centre. Sally leads silent and themed retreats and is a giver of the Ignatian Exercises. She is a part-time pastor of Avalon Baptist Peace church, and a team member of the on-line formation experience “Wise Arts for the Soul,” and a member of “Listen into Life,” a formation program for spiritual directors.
Sally has published a booklet and a 3 set DVD/MP3: “Christian Meditation: 5 Ways to Pray”; and two books: “Walking the Labyrinth as the Beloved in John’s Gospel” (2016) and “Conversations with Silence: Rosetta Stone of the Soul” (2021).
She is married with two adult children.
May the four voices of Love, Mercy, Justice and Peace in our communities be heard, respected, enacted and embraced, so that indeed "Love and Mercy will meet, and Justice and Peace will kiss each other..." (Psalm 85).
May we have fresh eyes to see Christ in our neighbours, renewed hearing to listen deeply, a graced tongue so speak slowly, and bodies that incarnate the way of Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus who was born into a world as fraught and scheming as ours today, may we hold the candle of hope for a new day dawning.
Photograph: John Englezos, Sunset, Poatina, Great Western Tiers, Nupawula Country, Tasmania
Visual Description: Pink clouds hang over a silhouette of a house. The sky above the clouds is cornflower blue.