You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
(Matthew 5: 43-47)
Jesus seems to love to challenge our ordinary human inclinations. He pushes His followers to look even further into matters, to go further beyond their usual emotional reaction to events. Our reaction is to go, “What do you mean, ‘Love your enemies’? Can’t we just ignore them? Can’t we just dismiss them as people we should not deal with?”
And Jesus answers, “No.”
Jesus wants to raise up a body of people who will be extraordinary, who can indeed be called the Children of God. And He says that to get to that title, we have to do more than the ordinary person.
But wait .... That phrase, “you may be sons of God,” doesn’t that ring a bell? Didn’t He say something like that just recently?
And when we look back to the Beatitudes, there it is – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”
So Jesus is just elaborating further on that declaration. Loving one’s enemies is how one can become a son or daughter of God.
Loving the enemy. Hmmm. Something to think about. What does that look like?
In the course of everyday exchanges, when conversations verge into discussions of politics, I see disturbing things happen in many of my fellow believers. Whether they are conservative or liberal, they start to demonize the political leaders of the opposing ideology. What makes it worse, to me, is that these political figures frequently are fellow believers, with records of regular attendance at some church, and often reportedly inclined to confer with their pastors. Yet, I've seen people behave as if it is an impossibility for those politicians to be genuine in their choice to follow Christ. Even the commitment of their pastors to truly following Jesus has been called in question. Where is the love in this? Nowhere.
And that dismissal of nominal fellow believers who hold a different political agenda becomes even more magnified when the person openly stands outside the Christian faith. Dismissal and rejection become even more stringent.
This is not what Jesus calls us to be doing. There is no excuse for it. No cause for righteousness will excuse our failure to bring love into the mix. If we act without love, we are “no better than the Gentiles.” Of course, everyone finds it easy to love those who share their beliefs. There is a sense of safety when we are inside a closed circle, an “In Group.” Even those who we stand against know that feeling. “Go where you are loved” makes the greatest sense in the world to us.
But it is not enough in the eyes of the Lord.
Oh, how we wish we could get around it. Oh, how we wish we could ignore it. But we have here the words of Jesus, telling us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Just how well do we follow this instruction?
I don’t think we do it very well at all.
Oh, I hear and see plenty of “praying for those who persecute us.” Of the sort of prayer that goes, “Father, Those People are all wrong! Change their hearts! Make them stop persecuting us! Make them see the error of their ways!”
Do we ever consider what that sounds like in God’s ears? “Father, I don’t like or understand that person’s attitudes. They are all wrong! Rap their knuckles and discipline them! They’re mean to me! Make them stop!”
Where is the love?
In the course of studying the Sermon on the Mount, I don’t often look outside of it. Not because there are not pertinent scriptures that might apply, but rather because, for me, I want to stay focused on what Jesus is charging me to be doing in my life. But this whole matter of loving the enemy makes me look to what Paul gives as the image of Love.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteouness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 – NAS)
What is it that I see when I look at my fellow believers commenting about those with a differing political outlook? I see impatience, unkindness, and arrogance. I see people speaking in unbecoming fashions, sniping and belittling those they disagree with, creating horrible nicknames to plaster on their political opponents. I see believers who harp on wrongs done them, broadcasting them loudly and angrily. I certainly do not see believers bearing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. And it grieves me.
Not to say that I’m perfect at this “loving the enemy” thing myself. I can get resentful of slights and dismissals. I can be as cutting and spiteful as the next person. But I’m at least willing to admit that I shouldn’t be doing it.
But even publicly admitting we shouldn't be sniping and spiteful, that is not what Jesus calls us to be doing. I know some who will not tone down their rhetoric of condemnation, because they believe their cause is righteous. They believe that they have to stand up and be vocal about what they believe is important and godly. But I cannot help but think that they grieve the Lord greatly because these zealots do it by tearing down those who oppose them with vicious verbal knives.
Where are the peacemakers? Where are those who will be called the Sons and Daughters of God?
The crusaders of causes believe they have already earned that title. I think that is at the heart of it. They presume they wear that title and so are now free to follow their sense of righteousness, even though they behave without charity toward those they stand against.
But that title, Son or Daughter of God, is not something we can claim. It is something bestowed upon us – by others, by the Lord. We gain it because we are willing to do the service for it. Jesus said, "They shall be called" by that title, not "They shall call themselves the Sons of God."
Make no mistake, God loves all of His creatures. Always. And He calls all of us His children, in the sense that He will never on His side of matters cease to love any of us. But we shall not all of us earn a place as Inheritors, entered into the Royal Line of Heaven, given rulership and authority. Jesus has told us that that power goes into the hands of those who can give love even to those who persecute them.
Love is not arrogant, love does not keep records of wrongs done to it. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
This is the gift that Jesus commands us to give to our enemies and persecutors. Can we do it?