“Do not let my enemies exult over me.”
Those are the words of the psalmist in our lectionary text for this Sunday. “O my God, in you I trust” this verse begins before it transforms itself from a safe religious Hallmark-like affirmation to the real source of the psalmists petition—being rescued from the threat of one’s enemies.
I have to admit that at times this prayer is pretty darn satisfying to pray. “I trust in you, O God, so treat me a little a little better than you treat my enemies.” When things get tough and others don’t see the world the way I see it, it feels pretty darn good to retreat to these words, “Do not let my enemies exult over me.” “Don’t let them have the satisfaction of standing over me in victory.” “Don’t let me be humiliated and embarrassed by those who are no friend of God.”
But I have been thinking about this notion of enemies lately. I noticed as I read the text that my mind, at first, immediately pictured certain people who might fit the category of enemy in my life. But as soon as I pictured them I also felt immediately uncomfortable with the word enemy. I don’t think I have any real people enemies.
It is true that there are some people in my life that I find more challenging than others. It is also true that there are people in my life that I find rather annoying. It is also true that there are people with whom I disagree at a real basic and visceral level. But to label those people as my enemies feels too simple. Should it be that easy to dismiss someone as an enemy just because I find them challenging, annoying or difficult to agree with? And aren’t most people a little more complex and multi-layered to be put in a box simply labeled “enemy”?
I don’t know exactly who or what the psalmist was referring to in this 25th psalm. I am not enough of a Biblical scholar (or maybe too lazy) to seek out the name or nationality or class of people that the psalmist might be referring to.
But I do know that when I thought about my real enemies I discovered that they weren’t people; they were attitudes.
The truth is I do have some real enemies. My enemies are fear, hopelessness, despair and lack of trust. Those enemies I fight on a consistent basis. Those enemies I have to go to battle with every day. I know what it means to feel fear or despair and then to call out to God, “Do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let fear and despair find a permanent home in me.”
We in the church live in an uncertain time. Anxiety runs high. Concerns over the future seem to lie just below the surface of every conversation. We have become a worrying people. And sometimes in our anxiety and worry we hurt each other. And sometimes we even start to picture each other as enemies.
I do think the psalmist is right. We do have enemies. But our real enemies are not each other or the culture around us or the people with whom we disagree. Our real enemies are the attitudes that so easily separate us one from another. Our real enemies are the walls that we erect to create an us and them world. Our real enemies are inside of us, not sitting next to us.
“O my God, in you I trust.” Please don’t let my fears keep me from the holding the hand of the person next to me. Please don’t let my worries get in the way of living and loving.