Would that those who now test us were converted and tried with us; yet though they continue to try us, let us not hate them, for we do not know whether any of them will persist to the end in their evil ways. And most of the time, when you think you are hating your enemy, you are hating your brother without knowing it.
(St. Augustine, Treatise on Vulgate Psalm 54)
On this day the Church recalls Judas Iscariot’s decision to betray Jesus, determining for whatever reason that this was essential. It is a day which in some final sense seals Jesus’ fate. Yet it is also the day when many churches offer the somber service of Tenebrae, when we hear St. Augustine’s words of caution about hating others.
Christians are called to hate only sin. To hate another person is to close the door on them as people, and to turn them into pure sin. Hatred denies access, hope, the possibility of transformation. It erases all possibility to sharing the Gospel and its light.
Holy Week consistently turns us from our human-based assumptions about life to the God-based facts of the Gospel. We may have any number of reasons to hate someone, from the human perspective. But staying on the purely human level dooms us to the repetition of all past systems of human wrong.
St. Augustine is bringing us back from the brink of thinking that we can hate easily, with no real cost to ourselves. He is pointing out that, in some hard-to-see way, our enemies may be far more like us than we wish to admit. Only Evil itself cannot be reconciled with God. To keep from hating often requires a deep commitment of prayer and is frequently the truest test of whether we accept or reject the Gospel way of life.
Like Jesus offering Judas the final sop at the Last Supper, we are to exhaust all possibilities before letting the door be closed on relationships. To do less than this means inviting the same treatment of ourselves by others--and by God.
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Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week