When my Enemy Becomes my Teacher

We are Psalm 23 people.  We like to think of our God in singular terms.  Those opening words that declare the Lord is my shepherd, helps us build a privacy fence; imagining ourselves strolling through those green pastures and beside the still waters with my Lord.  We stub our toe in this favorite Psalm in verse five.  Suddenly, somebody else is present.  It says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  Into this idyllic, intimate Psalm come intruders who are not our friends, but our enemies, persons who hurt, betray, and oppose us.

Interpretations which suggest this verse endorses vengeance is consistent with what we find in the Old Testament.  Throughout the Psalms, writers frequently cry out in uncensored pleas for God to embarrass those who are enemies (or worse).  “O God, break their teeth in their mouth; let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime…” (Psalm 58:6a, 8a).  So, we could interpret the fifth verse as a promise some day, there will be payback: our enemies will be sorry for what they did, and as they are sinking to the depths, they’ll suffer the added humiliation of witnessing us rising to the top.

It is these Old Testament voices I have been listening to on the morning after a stunning announcement that Bin Laden is dead.  These voices sadden me and cause me to wonder like Tony Campolo after 9/11-WWJD?  Naturally, when we are hurt, our first impulse is to retaliate.  While I acknowledge the blunt emotions of this day, I must not weigh my understanding of God solely on Old Testament verses of eye for an eye.  We are clothed in Christ and we must hear the voice of Jesus, who is the Good Shepherd.

After 9/11, an American columnist opined, “This is no time to go around quoting Jesus when 1000’s of Americans are dying.”  This is exactly the time to quote Jesus.  Anytime we’re talking about enemies or those who have hurt us, we need to hear words like “return good for evil“; “love your enemies“; “blessed are the peacemakers“; and “do good to those who hurt you.”  We need to start a different place than those children caught up in the ways of this world; dancing fools, bringing shame to all the values the White House represents.

What if “you prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” means God has prepared a banquet of creative alternatives for us to choose from when confronted by being in the presence of our enemies.  We are children of God; born to create.  We direct our creativity toward material success, manifesting dreams, or helping a cause.  We forget the same natural ability can be employed in spiritual times like these.  We don’t have to fall back on the same old mantras that re-enforce our war faring ways.  This is what children of this world sound like, not children of a flock watched over by a Good Shepherd.

I pray on this day we can tap the brakes on feelings of satisfaction that come because our enemy has been shamed.  I want to sit in an appropriate silence that gives me room to consider the power of forgiveness and hope of reconciliation.  It takes a lot of God in me to reflectively seek to understand why an enemy seeks to do harm.  The real “me”; the part of me that has been redeemed and the part of me that has yet to be redeemed is revealed when I am in the presence of my enemies.  On this day, I will allow my enemy to be my spiritual teachers; providing me an opportunity to grow.

The place I choose to stand today is beside our Good Shepherd who said from a cross, “Forgive them, they know not what they are doing.”  The thoughts I choose plumb on this day is how my redemption was made possible by compassion offered in the midst of violence.  My prayer I offer this day is to tune out voices of this world; and tune into the voice who calls us to offer the same compassion offered from a cruel cross.  I am certain more redemption is possible there, than in any of my un-redemptive tendencies.

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