Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Tangled Web: Following Jesus' Advice about Loving Our Enemies Is Not Only Good for Our Enemies, It's Good for Us

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Tangled Web: Following Jesus' Advice about Loving Our Enemies Is Not Only Good for Our Enemies, It's Good for Us

Article excerpt

DURING A RECENT SOUTHWEST EXCURSION I came back to the house to find a tarantula on my doorstep, eerily poised between me and the door. We've all seen the movies where the tarantula pauses, motionless in all its hairy, spidery glory, before it begins the creepy stalk toward its victim. The tarantula is well chosen to play that part because it is a large and remarkably chilling beast. It looks like something one wishes to avoid the near occasion of. But this particular fellow was directly in the oath I needed to take, so avoiding him was not really an option.

Tarantulas are not especially dangerous, as spiders go. There are many more black widows in this part of the world, and though quite lovely with their sleek black bodies and red hourglass insignia on their bellies, the bite of a black widow can cause respiratory paralysis and even death to small children.

But the tarantula is a bit of a false alarm, visually speaking. While it looks far scarier than the average spider, it's mostly interested in finding other spiders on which to dine. In black widow country, then, a tarantula could be viewed as a friend.

Still, I admit my first reaction to seeing a 3-inch long spider with a 6-inch leg span was to want to stomp on it. While may brain said it wasn't likely to hurt me, the fear response when it comes to eight-leggers is pretty inbred. Kill it! It's either him or me! But instead of giving in to impulse, I controlled the rising mania by sitting down carefully on the porch and keeping an eye on the creature while I waited it out.

The original wolf spider known by the name tarantula was believed to have a bite that caused a hysteria called tarantism. The only cure, supposedly, was to dance the tarantella long and hard. The tarantella, a folk dance with a rapidly increasing tempo, is a strenuous and prolonged sort of treatment tot hysteria. But if dancing helps keep the hysteria from tearing your psyche to pieces, it's a dance worth learning.

As I sat and watched the spider, I wondered if it was watching me. It did not move for a quarter of an hour. And then, daintily stretching its legs, it raised its body high and took a balletically slow promenade across the floor. I have rarely seen a creature move so elegantly.

I felt ashamed of my impulse to destroy it.

Maybe there should be a dance we could do to keep our fear of being bitten in check.

Often we fear things that are new or foreign to us even though they intend us no harm. And sometimes what we fear may indeed bite us painfully hard, like the tarantula, but only if we seem to cause a threat. Left to itself, a tarantula isn't the least interested in vertebrates as big as us. All we need to do is show a little respect, and this fellow creature will eventually pass on by.

UNDERSTANDING THE DYNAMICS OF A SITUATION, LIKE THAT between one species and another, can change our interpretation of it profoundly. And addressing the dynamics can often avert a looming disaster. For example, some small amount of the violence in the world is certainly personal, but a greater part of it isn't: It has more to do with underlying forces that cause a person, or a nation, to explode into chaos. If something was done about the tensions at an earlier stage the ensuing hostilities might have been circumvented. But once both sides of a division have been bitten painfully enough, hysteria takes over and the dance of vengeance begins. Unfortunately, this dance never cures the injury, but only spreads the poison far and wide.

Centuries of bloodshed have soaked the world since the time when Cain first raised his hand against his brother, Abel. So Jesus spoke with intimate appreciation of what he was asking when he told his disciples: "To you who hear I say, love your enemies."

Jesus wasn't lobbying for some sloppy spiritual sentiment here. He recognized that fighting our enemies, even killing them, was no solution to the trouble that caused the animosity to begin with. …

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