Love Your Enemies, Really?
I’m a comic book fan. Especially Marvel, and most especially Spiderman. I grew up reading the comic books, collecting them, watching the different cartoon series, and then as an adult, watching all the movies. Despite some pretty terrible flaws in some of the movies, I can’t help but smile through each one because it’s my childhood hero coming to life on the big screen. One of the recent movies: Spiderman: Homecoming was really good. If you haven’t seen it and plan to, stop reading now. Spoiler alert! Spoilers ahead!
At the start of the movie, we’re introduced to Adrian Toomes. He’s a working class guy. He’s got a family. He runs a small business and he cares about his employees and the fact that they depend on him for their income. So when a bad hand takes his business away, big business is to blame. And big business acts exactly the opposite of Adrian, showing absolutely no regard for the livelihood of the people they are putting out of business and their ability to provide for their families. You actually empathize with Adrian when he turns to crime. After all, he only steals from big business. His crimes are all theft, so no one gets hurt. And at the end of the day, he’s thinking about just making sure he can provide for his family.
Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spiderman), has a run in with some of Adrian’s less than noble employees and feels the responsibility of shutting down Adrian’s operation. Which threatens Adrian’s ability to provide for his family. So Adrian has to make it personal with Spiderman, to include threatening Peter’s family and loved ones. And of course, unbeknownst to Peter, the girl in school he has fallen for happens to be Adrian’s daughter. Adrian legitimately tries to kill Peter a couple times in the movie. Between threatening Peter’s family and trying to actually kill him, it would seem like Adrian has crossed a very important line. One that would put him squarely into the heinous villain peg, much like Joker, or Bullseye, or Red Skull. But a funny thing happens. In the final battle, after trying again to kill Peter, Adrian himself is caught in an explosion, and Peter rushes in to save him. Peter should have hated the guy. Adrian sure hated Peter. But Peter saved him anyway.
There is an immediate analogy that comes to my mind. Peter’s willingness to die trying to save his enemy is entirely analogous to Christ dying for us, while we were yet His enemy, in order to save us. Romans 5:8,10: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
John 3:16 says God sent Jesus to save everyone, to die for everyone’s sins. That includes those people who were actively trying to kill Him during His lifetime. The religious and even political leaders of the time all saw Jesus as a threat to their power, to the establishment, and actively sought to kill Him. In the end, they even succeeded. The religious leaders trumped up charges against Jesus, convinced the political leaders who then sent armed guards to apprehend Jesus into custody. We all know the story. Once Jesus was taken, He was beaten, whipped, tortured, mocked. He was given a facade of a trial and convicted falsely. He was then executed in one of the most painful and horrible methods ever invented: crucifixion. I think that puts a whole mess of people into the category of flat out enemies of Jesus.
But when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, right before He was apprehended, He didn’t tell God He changed His mind about what He had to do or who He was doing it for. And in fact, throughout His life up until the end, we saw Jesus act like Peter did in the movie: charging in, sacrificing his own safety and even life to save the life of his enemy.
It’s truly mind blowing when you think about what Jesus did. He loved his enemies. Not in a theoretical sense. Not in an intellectual sense. He loved those people that hated Him. He loved them so much that He submitted Himself to torture and death for their sake. Just like Peter rushes into the explosion to try to save Adrian, we can picture Jesus metaphorically rushing to the cross to save all of us, even those condemning Him, beating Him, mocking Him, and ultimately nailing Him to the cross. By all human rights, both Peter and Jesus should have hated those people who were threatening them or even trying to hurt or kill them. But instead of hating, they were willing to sacrifice, even die, for them. That is the reality of loving our enemies. That’s the amazing dichotomy of love and hate. That to defeat hate, we must love, forgive, and sacrifice. Not the easiest thing to do. Especially when it’s someone who hurt you or continues to hurt you.
I’ll close this post by swinging (no pun intended, well, perhaps a little pun intended) back to the Spiderman movie and this final thought about the impact that loving your enemy can have.
In a post-credits scene, we’re taken to the inside of a prison. It’s the common area where prisoners are allowed to walk around in. The camera closes in on Adrian, now dressed in prison garb. He’s lost everything. His family found out about his criminal life. He’s been sent to prison for many years and he’s going to miss seeing his daughter grow up or being a husband to his wife. His family no longer has an income they can count on and they have to move, including leaving Peter’s school. By all accounts, Adrian should perhaps hate Peter even more now as the cause of his misery.
Certainly, that’s how most villains would respond. As Adrian shuffles through the common area, another prisoner approaches him. Mack. Mack featured only for a few minutes in the movie, as a scumbag criminal who was buying tech from Adrian and got captured by Spiderman in the process. We don’t know a lot about Mack from the movie, but every true comic book aficionado became giddy at his appearance in the movie because we know him as the alter ego to a future Spiderman villain named Scorpion. We don’t know why Mack has such contempt for Spiderman but he does.
So Mack approaches Adrian and confronts him. Mack says he’s heard that Adrian knows who Spiderman really is. Mack wants to know, because he wants payback. This would be the perfect opportunity for Adrian to spill the beans on Peter. It would be perfect revenge, right?
Imagine the audience’s collective gasp then in the theater when Adrian shakes his head and tells Mack he doesn’t know who Spiderman is, but if he did he would be the first person to go after him. Adrian actually flips the script and takes a turn at protecting Peter, his enemy.
And perhaps that’s sort of part of the point. Maybe through all this, Adrian came to terms with his own actions, and took accountability and responsibility for them. And it was Peter’s sacrifice that made him realize all this. And through that sacrifice, Adrian’s life was changed. And perhaps Peter and Adrian are no longer enemies, that chasm healed by forgiveness and sacrifice.
It’s exhilarating to think, to know, that in our case, there’s no doubt about it. Christ’s love, forgiveness, and sacrifice have bridged the chasm between us. Instead, because of Christ’s sacrificial love in laying down his life for us who were once his bitter enemies, we’re offered a fresh start in life and an invitation to become family. God’s family. This is the power of love extended to those who don’t deserve it. Those who were once estranged are brought near. It is through receiving of love that we find true belonging. And now as his adopted children, we can begin a new life that offers to others (yes, even our enemies) this same unconditional love that conquered our own hearts and made us new.
Hi my name is Peter, like Peter Parker, my favorite hero and character. I’m a writer and analyst by trade. I love comic books, star wars, movies, reading, traveling, scuba diving, winter, snow, cheese, deep dish pizza, coffee, and wine. I’m a single dad and my girl is the center of my universe. I’m saved by faith through grace, not by any amount of trying to be a good person, but by Jesus’ death and resurrection. I do my best to bumble through this life in a way that pleases God, honors Him, reflects Him to the culture around me, and hopefully as a flawed exemplar for my daughter. I currently live in Maryland and work in Washington DC, but I think of Chicago almost as home.