Loving our enemies
“You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45, NRSV)
“‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28, NRSV)
These are two of the most difficult sayings of Jesus and passages of Scripture. Christianity.com has a nice short article on this topic, including Scripture references related to this that go beyond the two sayings of Jesus. I invite you to read it.
Loving our enemies is not easy. Nor does it seem to be practiced very often. Even by Christians. It seems rather that Christians, of all people, are more bent on punishing their enemies and getting revenge on their enemies and dehumanizing their enemies, rather than loving their enemies. I’m not sure how else to explain the vitriol that I observe from Christians. Christians in politics seem more concerned with pleasing the god of certainty and being right, rather than loving their enemies and opponents.
This stems from a variety of things. One of them being a firmly held belief that the basis of faith is right belief. Belief and faith are related to each other, but they are not the same thing. Faith is what God gives us. It’s not in our control. It’s beyond our understanding. It changes who we are and impacts us in such a way that we live differently – at least we are supposed to. It doesn’t make us perfect though. We will continue to fall and be broken. Faith isn’t about right belief. Faith is about living in right relationship. It is about restoring shalom.
Belief is a response to faith – something that we can assert and do. Belief if often about putting boundaries around faith in order for us to understand it and make sense of it. The problem with that is when we try to control it and control others in order to fit our own understanding.
We are called to love our enemies – not berate them. We’re called to love our enemies – not point out how wrong they are. We’re called to love our enemies – not dehumanize them. We are called to love our enemies – not call them names. We are called to love our enemies – not try to kill them. We are called to love our enemies – yet why is this so difficult for Christians to understand and embrace? Maybe we don’t actually believe that faith is all that transformative? Maybe we don’t want it to be? Maybe we are too busy trying to control faith and God? Maybe we’re too busy trying to be God (Humanity has been doing that for a long time, see Genesis 3 – the story of the fall where the first sin is really a sin about knowing and being in control).
I wonder how the world would change if we actually loved our enemies. If we didn’t wait for them to change. If we didn’t wait for someone else to go first. If we just actually followed what Jesus told us to do. To love our enemies – our political and partisan enemies. Our national enemies. Our religious enemies. Our business enemies. Enemies that we keep at arms length. Enemies that we label and keep as abstract.
Want to know the easiest way to love an enemy – find out their name and story. See the person and be determined to see the image of God in that person. And intentionally listen to them, listening for their humanity. Loving your enemies doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. It doesn’t mean you’re going to come away liking them even. It means you’ll be doing what God does with you – loving you as difficult as you are, as broken as you are, as resistant as you are. You’ll have a better sense of God. You’ll know grace and mercy. You’ll better understand forgiveness. You’ll better know shalom. You’ll better know peace. Jesus calls us to love our enemies because Jesus knows that when we love our enemies, we are changed and so is the world (ever so slightly, yet changed). And it’s that what the Good News is about – transformation, release from bondage, shalom, peace, grace, mercy.
Love your enemies. Give it a try. It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. But if Jesus told us to do it, there must be a good reason. And it wasn’t a suggestion. Love your enemies. Don’t make excuses for why you can’t. Love your enemies. Start today. Right now. Be released from the anger, the fear, the self-righteousness, and the blindness to the image of God in others. Love your enemies so that you can be loved. Love your enemies so that you can better now the kingdom of God. Love your enemies in order to participate in the shalom of God. Love your enemies.