Once, while dining with the Pharisees and Tax-Collectors, one of the elders seated at the right hand of the host began to question Jesus about the sayings attributed to him.
“Teacher,” the elder said, “you have told us to love our neighbours and you told us who our neighbours are. I have heard that you have also told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. But you have not been so clear as to who our enemies are. Tell me, teacher, who is my enemy, so that I may love him? Who is the one who persecutes me so that I may pray for him?”
In response to this question, Jesus told the following story:
“Once there was a man whose wife had died and who had been left alone to raise a single daughter. In order to raise her up and protect her and educate her and put money aside for her dowry, this man worked very long hours doing backbreaking work for a thankless taskmaster. Yet he always greeted his master respectfully, he smiled and nodded and laughed at his master’s jokes. He rose when his master rose and only sat when invited to do so. He never complained when he was beaten. He didn’t interrupt and he always thanked his master for his pay and for the opportunity to work for him. Sometimes, when the master patted his shoulder or shook his hand after a job well done, he expressed a particularly great delight. But the work was hard and he was often weary when he got home. If his daughter did not have dinner prepared, he would be short-tempered with her. If his work clothes were not properly washed and laid out in their place early the next morning, he would yell at her. Sometimes, if he were particularly sore or tired or had been beaten by his master, he would hit his daughter. This went on for some time until the man became injured at work. He was unable to fulfill his normal duties and hoped that his years of service would incline the master to give him a different role. Sadly, this was not the case and the master threw him out. Unable to find other work, he was reduced to begging. The little money he was able to raise begging in the streets with his daughter – who now joined him there – was not enough for them to survive and so, weeping a great many tears, he did what many others did before and with and after him. He sold his daughter into slavery and that was the last he saw of his only child.”
There was silence around the table when Jesus finished his story and so he asked a question:
“Tell me, who is the enemy of this man?”
Without hesitation, the elder who had initiated the conversation responded, “Surely the taskmaster is the enemy! Surely he is the one the man is called to love!”
“Oh, you blind and foolish fellow,” Jesus responded, “no wonder you are seated where you are at this table! The taskmaster is not the enemy of this man – for he always greeted him as a friend and he always was respectful in his presence and he always showed delight in his company. No, the man treated the taskmaster as his friend and so he was, regardless of how the taskmaster treated him. The true enemy – the one the man treated like his enemy – was his daughter. She was the one he was short with and yelled at and beat and ultimately sold into slavery, regardless of his feelings for her. Those whom you harm are the enemies you are called to love in deed and in action for love is a doing far more than a feeling. However, the taskmaster was the one who persecuted the man. I do not say that it is necessary to love such a person – has he not already been treated as a friend, even by those whom he abuses? – but it may be worthwhile to pray for him. Perhaps my Father in heaven will hear your prayers and make him into a good master instead of a cruel one or, if that proves to be too difficult, perhaps my Father in heaven will hear your prayers and strike him dead.
Your enemy is not the one who harms you, but the one you harm. And so I say this: do no harm. As for the one who persecutes you, leave that one in the hands of God. Rome crushes you – whom you treat as a friend – and you crush the people – whom you treat as enemies although they are flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood. You cannot stop Rome but one day Rome will be stopped. Whether or not you are also stopped at that point will depend on whether or not you have ceased to do violence to those who are less than you. If you do not learn to actively love your enemies, when judgment falls on Rome, those whom you have treated as enemies may decide to accept that designation and rise up against you. They will be singing songs of freedom as they beat plowshares into swords and they will cut you down like the harvest and not one of you will be saved.”
When Jesus finished speaking, several of those gathered at the meal decided it was time to get serious about their plot to kill him.