Seemingly every time he turned around, there they were, the Pharisees, that Jewish religious/political group that hounded Jesus at every turn. They were relentless, and in the end, they conspired to have Jesus put to death.
In the Gospels there are 89 references to the Pharisees (Matthew-31, Mark-12, Luke-27 and John-19) and most of them do not speak to a cozy relationship; there are four references to the Pharisees as a “brood of vipers,” which helps to define the kind of relationship they had.
All the same, there are three references, all found in the Gospel of Luke, to Jesus having dinner with a Pharisee. This willingness to have a meal with his enemies is indicative of Jesus’ willingness to love his enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).
Humanly speaking, we do not often break bread with those we hate or mistrust — to share a meal is intimate, something reserved for our friends and trusted companions. Nevertheless, there we have it; Jesus going out of his way to dine with his enemies.
This willingness to share a meal with those who hated him speaks volumes of Jesus’ desire for us to continue interacting with those with whom we disagree.
If you are active on social media, you have probably seen the threats to unfriend, unfollow or block people with opposing political views. There seems to be an ever-present temptation to isolate ourselves amongst those with whom we agree.
I am not immune to this temptation, and sadly I have fallen into this isolationist mode several times. I am no saint; but I recognize that Facebook and other forms of social media already cherry pick the information they believe I will be most interested in viewing.
We are already isolated before we have the opportunity to make decisions that result in further isolation. It is, therefore, more necessary than ever to heed the call of Christ and actively encounter “our enemies.”
This call to encounter our enemies is not limited to Christ’s example of eating with the Pharisees; it extends to what Christ decided not to do.
With infinitely less effort than it takes me to snap my fingers, Jesus Christ, God-made-man, could have wiped the Pharisees from the face of the earth. Not only that, he could have removed all memory of them whatsoever.
It is so easy to feel justified in our hatred of “our enemies,” but the only one who is truly justified gave us a living example of mercy. Instead of obliterating the Pharisees, Christ shared a meal with them, and ultimately died for them.
When we decide that a person’s views are not worth listening to, we are only a hop, skip and (not even really) a jump away from deciding that they no longer have the right to live. A bit extreme? I know, but can we honestly say it isn’t true? Can we honestly say that we are immune to the temptation of putting “our enemies” to death?
To take this a step further, can we be assured that those with whom we disagree would never consider our demise? I’m afraid, in this climate of political vitriol and polarization, we are far from such assurances. Likewise, it is not surprising that similar ideological disputes have infected dialogue between Christians and within the church.
We hear in the 14th chapter of Romans that “if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord.” Jesus shows us that sharing a meal with “our enemies” is not the limit of how far we may be asked to go — dying for “our enemies” is not outside the realm of possibility.
Father Adam B. Carrico is assistant chaplain at Sacred Heart Academy and serves as associate pastor of St. Patrick Church. He blogs at HarvestersWanted.blogspot.com.