Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; but rejoice when they get a bullet to the head
— Jesus, Matthew 5:44

I’m late to the party. Bin Laden is dead, and everyone and their mother has blogged their brains out about it. Alas, it cannot be helped…

I’m at a loss for words because I’m genuinely filled with sadness about this day. I’m saddened because I’ve seen Christians–many of them unwittingly–rejoice and exult in the death of Bin Laden. I sincerely don’t mean this in a judgmental way–I have enough flaws of my own to not waste my hypocritical breath on others. But I’m saddened because my tongue-in-cheek revision of Jesus’ directive to love seems to have actualized itself in far too many ways.

I’m saddened because barely one week after Easter, we’ve forgotten the profundity of forgiveness and the depths of divine love (did we realize it to begin with?) that was displayed unconditionally to an infinitely twisted, broken, hostile, rebellious, and murderous race.

I’m saddened because on Divine Mercy Sunday, where all are invited partake of the Eucharist and find salvation, hearts are yet closed and actually rejoice in the destruction and presumed damnation of a human person…even if he was an enemy.

The Face of the Enemy

So what about this? If Jesus calls us to love our enemies, what does this mean for us? And by “us,” I’m not talking about “Americans.” I’m talking about Christians. If you’re under the impresion that your “Americanism” somehow entitles you to a special response in these circumstances…well, you might as well stop reading.

Are “enemies” simply the generic “annoyances” that live across the street and make our lives difficult by not picking up after their dogs, or not mowing their lawns regularly enough? If so, it’s easy to love them. Are “enemies” the competition at work against whom we strive for better pay, flashier titles, and a better street-view-window? If so, it’s also easy to love them. It is easy to love these people because, while they may cause us some minor emotional or psychological distress, they are not “evil.” They don’t pose an existential threat to us or our families.

But Jesus had real enemies. They were not the scribes that disagreed with him theologically, nor the misguided zealots who wished to use him for their own political ends. No, Jesus’ real enemies wanted him dead. Not in the metaphorical “I-want-your-job-and-wish-you’d-move-to-Antarctica” sense of the phrase. Nope, they wanted nothing more, nothing less than to see him cold and six-feet under. And they even went out of their way, calling in every favor they had, to make it happen.

And what was Jesus’ response to his would-be-murderers?

Did he pray to God for the “justice” of heaven to reign down and obliterate them in a great show of violence? Nope.

Did he publicly rage against them, screaming at the top of his blood-filling lungs that they “deserved” to die? Nope.

Did he secretly plead with God to make sure that they “got what they deserved” in a fiery hell for such a brutal act? No.

Rather, in keeping with his own command, Jesus loved them, prayed for them…and forgave them. He didn’t even pray for himself to be spared, or even for an unlikely, last-minute rescue. Rather, he spent his final prayers pleading with the Father that his enemies would find forgiveness, his dying breaths expressing the hope that divine restoration would win the day. And you know what? It got him killed.

The Paradox of the Kingdom

It’s a sobering thought, but this is the paradox of kingdom living. Life in the kingdom of God is not based on the pattern of the world, a pattern that embraces violence as a means of establishing “rightness” and “justice.” Rather, it is a way of living that–shocking as it sounds–actually submits to evil and violence, trusting as Christ did not in the power of brutal struggle and violent resistance, but only in the vindication of the Father…even in the face and inevitability of death. This pattern of kingdom living, this “ethic of love,” is one whose hope for “justice” is the divine restoration of all things, not the ultimate dispersal of divine hell-fire and retribution to “the evil ones.”. It is a mindset that does not find hope, peace, or beauty in death and destruction, but sees these as precisely the blinders which Christ came to remove in his revelation of the perfectly unconditional forgiveness and love of the eternal Father.

Is this realistic? Can peace and mercy really reign in such a hostile environment? Can non-violence and love really win out against the insatiable thirst of demonic hatred and violent aggression? The hope of Christianity is that it can; the challenge of kingdom living is that it is a road paved with a bloody cross.