Jesus on Enemies

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father Who is in heaven…” (Matthew 5:43-45a)

Enemies. Holocaust. Rwanda. American Slavery, Segregation, and the New Jim Crow. Sexism. Same-Sex marriage. Islamaphobia. Anti-American. Israel. vs. Palestine. Israel vs. Iran. Rich vs. Poor. Wall Street Golden-parachutists. Republican VS. Democrat. Obama vs. the Tea party. Rednecks vs. N@$#%&s. Pimps vs. Prostitutes. Sex-Slave Trade. Pedophiles. Spousal and Child abusers

Who is your enemy? Whom do you hate? Many can find in the list above valid reasons to be against something or someone listed. The demands of justice in the face of heinous evil can produce a venomous hatred. Being abused, used, mistreated, marginalized, “genocided”, systematically kept down, kidnapped, lied on, raped, maligned…these and many others can produce a desire for justice that borders on vengeance. How are we to treat our enemies…if we claim to be Christian?  

In Matthew 22 Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. The Luke 10 version of the story has the lawyer then asking Jesus who is the neighbor. This leads Jesus to tell of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritans were a people the Jews hated, and in that relationship Jews were the dominant people and culture. Thus Jesus is saying that we are to love people who we have a problem with, when we are the ones in power.

However, in Matthew 5 Jesus is saying something different. The background of this quote above is opposite that of Matthew 22 and Luke 10. In those passages Jews were in power; in Matthew 5 Jews are without power. They are hit in the face, taken to court, forced to walk a mile with someone, and extorted. Who was guilty of these infractions? Romans. What is Jesus solution? Love.

“I say unto you that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” (Matthew 5:39-42)

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The initial context of this quote has Jesus showing the people who to resist evil through non-violent means. He is showing the oppressed how to assert their humanity without becoming an oppressor. He is not telling them to simply roll over and passively take it. He is rather informing them how to shrewdly embarrass their abuser in order to shame him into acting correctly. However, immediately after this Jesus says the following:

“Love your enemies…”

 Jesus tells the oppressed to love their abuser, submitting themselves to more abuse it would seem! This is beyond counter cultural, this counter intuitive to the human nature. Jesus is aiming at the heart of humanity. 

In Matthew 22 and Luke 10 Jesus speaks to the Jewish lawyer telling him to love his neighbor, who in the story was the ethnic and cultural group Jews hated, and in which relationship Jews felt superior. They viewed the Samaritans as half-breeds at best, and assuredly not pure bred Jews.  The Jews treated the Samaritans badly; the Jews were the oppressors.

In Matthew 5, however, Jews are the oppressed. The Romans were in power and could demand that Jews give him their coats, walk with him and carry his gear for 1 mile, could hit them in the face, and apparently extort money from them. 

In both scenarios Jesus says we are to love: when we are the oppressed and/or the oppressor. I like the “and” for that last phrase. Notice that the very people, who were oppressed and crying out to God for deliverance, justice, and freedom, are the same people who are treating badly those who actually have a genetic and cultural link to them. It is always interesting how we humans tend to want our freedom, but do not give the same liberties and rights to others. We want no one over us, but we want to lord over all. 

Jesus’ word to the oppressed: Love. Jesus word to the oppressor: Love. According to Jesus, these two things make us children of God: Love and Mercy (Luke 6:27-36). Love what is opposite you, love what hurts you, love what you despise, love what you don’t understand. 

Love the Islamic we fear. Love the black or white we hate. Love the upper class we envy, and “trailor-trash and ghetto hood-rat” we hate and fear. Love the same-sex individual we fear and hate. Love the Republican and the Democrat. Love President Obama and the Tea Party. Love the immigrants. 

The Christian does not get the luxury of choosing who they love based on ethnic (racial), socio-economic, national (patriotic), familial, gender, or even cultural criterion. The Christian is to be a child of God, love (agape- sacrifice) is the character of our Father, and it is the Law.