One preschool chapel, I was telling the story of the Good Samaritan. When I got to the part about the Samaritan seeing the guy in the ditch, I explained that Samaritans were enemies of people from Jerusalem. One adorable little girl raised her hand with a question. “What’s a emeny?” she asked, just as sweet as you could ever be.
How beautiful is it to not know what the definition of “enemy” is? I mean, she didn’t even know how to pronounce the word, since she had never used it in her entire life! I didn’t know whether or not I should define it for her, like I was crushing a new rose bud just beginning to open. As nearly as I can remember it, I went with something like, “They weren’t really friends” or “They didn’t know each other,” something along those lines.
What if the guy who asked Jesus “And who is my neighbor?” in Luke 10 had asked instead “Who is my enemy?” After all, one of the things he asks his followers to do is “love your enemies.” What about a follow-up parable, Jesus? “And who is my enemy?” What kind of parable would he have told?
People have a propensity toward love, I believe. I see it in kids. They are so, so much more ready to love than us grown-ups are. For example, foster kids come to our home having been horribly neglected or abused by their parents, and yet by some unfathomable mystery, the kids still seem to love them. Kids love their parents, no matter how crappy the parents may be. Kinda sucks sometimes, but there it is.
As we age, something seems to kind of grind the love right out of us. Over time, we are systematically and carefully taught who, exactly, our enemies are. The result is a slew of artificial enemies, people who aren’t really our enemies but we think they are because we have been taught as much. I wish Jesus had said to us, “Love the people you think are your enemies because you have been taught as much, but they’re really not they’re actually your neighbors so saying ‘love your enemies’ is in point of fact just the same as saying ‘love your neighbor’.” But Jesus wasn’t that wordy.
Of course, what I am NOT saying is that we should be naïvely trusting of every single person we meet. That could be dangerous. Teaching kids about “enemies” can be a safety thing. But I also notice a confusing double standard parents routinely teach kids. We warn kids about “stranger danger” but at the same time insist that they “be polite” when someone talks to them. That’s got to be a bit bewildering, don’t you think? When equal parts “Don’t talk to strangers” and “Can you say hi?” come out of our mouths, we are sending mixed messages, at best.
The truth is, a stranger is not automatically an enemy, and an acquaintance (even a family member), is not automatically a friend. 80% of child maltreatment perpetrators are parents, another 6.5% are other relatives, another 4.4% are unmarried partners of parents, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. For many kids, when your parents warn you not to talk to strangers, it’s because they don’t want to get arrested.
We have fostered kids who never should have had the experiences in their lives that they had, kids whose eyes look a lot older than the rest of them. Their propensity to love is out of whack because of the tendency toward violence that their lives have been, BUT it is STILL THERE. Sometimes the mixture of love and hurt is just too much, and it overflows in terrible, heart breaking ways.
They know exactly what an enemy is, and you had better believe they love them.