“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well...
You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
My particular specialization as an intelligence officer in the Air Force was target intelligence. After a hiatus of a few years, when the Air Force decided to renew specialized training for targeting, I was an honor graduate of the first class. Within six months, half of our class had been assigned temporary duty in the Middle East and I had been sent for my targeting skills to King Abdulaziz Air Base in Dahran, Saudi Arabia, in support of Operation Southern Watch. I became adept at analyzing target systems, determining critical nodes, and calculating the application of force to achieve various objectives. Give me a communication system, an air base, an oil refinery, a power plant, a rail yard, a port, a fifty foot deep bunker, any type of bridge, or a host of other target systems, and I could tell you how to inhibit, disrupt, damage, or destroy them, although my knowledge now is certainly outdated. I will still occasionally catch myself, when crossing the Ohio River, for example, thinking about the bridge design, construction techniques, elements of vulnerability, weapon accuracy, impact points, blast yields, etc. As I was preparing to leave the Air Force to go to seminary, I was offered an assignment to the first Air Force cyber warfare squadron, which would have used my same analytical targeting skills in a different realm of force application.
My default is not to love my enemies. It is not to turn the other cheek. I once had a t-shirt with a take on the old FedEx tag line, “Air Force: when it absolutely, positively has to be destroyed overnight.” Perhaps more than most, I default to thinking about the systematic dismantling of an enemy’s capacity to fight. Or, more generally, how to win. Jesus’s words hit hard. They cut deep. For me, and for each of us in our own way, they pierce our hearts. But they are not just words, easy to dismiss. Jesus lived out this teaching. He went to the cross for love of those who nailed him there. As he was dying, he prayed for those who were killing him. His victory was not won by striking out against those who sought him harm, but by embracing the attack, entering into the suffering, opening not his mouth, and giving himself in the sacrifice of love. In our reactive culture, where outrage and indignation are the norm, it is worthy to discern and imagine the place for love. In my own journey of faith, I have had to expand my heart, see the dignity of every person, make no one my enemy, and intentionally give and serve for the good of the other, without counting the cost. While there have been missteps along the way (many), I have tried to remain silent when besmirched or insulted, compassionate when taken advantage of, respectful when falsely accused, charitable in the midst of conflict, and merciful at the opportunity to strike. I try to take up my cross. To be honest, it is still a significant growing edge for me and the journey is far from over. I need to move more outside of myself, and to go deeper within. I need more time and more change. I need to be forgiven and to forgive. I need God’s grace. I need Lent.