Enemies: You got to love them.

Who are your enemies?

Of the cuff, I am not quite sure how to answer that.  Sure, we have people that we don't like in our world-- those people whose demeanor or opinions rub us the wrong way, or those people who are just opposed to us.  But are they enemies-- those who seek, or feel like they seek, to do us wrong and to bring us into disrepute?  It can be hard to come up with a list of who that might be, or if we are so unlucky to have someone readily to mind, harder still to know what "love" might look like.

We don't really do enemies all that well.  Its not all that polite, and in a day and time where most conflicts are handled by police, courts, and ultimately by armies fighting on our behalf, our personal lists become that much shorter.  Even where we do acknowledge our conflicts with others, we struggle, like so many before us, to understand the command to love which we are called to embody.

But we cannot ignore this command of Christ.  It is a clear teaching based on who Jesus is, and the way we know the kingdom of God of which we are a part functions.  But that does not mean we can't always understand it within the context it was spoken and meant.  For Jesus, in ancient Middle Eastern Culture, the honour of the individual was paramount.  To be struck or imposed upon in ANY way was a insult to the individual's sacred honour.  This invoked the law of the time: the famous eye for and eye and tooth  for a tooth line of which we are all aware.  But what is lost on us is that this law was not so much a license to revenge as it was a limit on how much one could revenge.  Honor demands to be satisfied, and sometimes that demands disportionate retaliation when someone is injured. It was meant to break the sometimes steep spiral of escalating violence, limiting the vengance to ONLY that which was suffered by the other.  

It is in this context that turning the other check becomes revelvant.  To be struck was an insult.  To strike repeated someone who was not engaging you was to invite the assailant to dishonour themselves.  To walk the second mile was to insist on the dignity of the self beyond what was being demanded by the solider who had power to demand that you walk the mile with them carrying their burdens.  Jesus, in addition to inviting us to love, and pray for those who do us wrong, is also inviting us to creative responses that break the cycle of violence, insisting on individual dignity by defying the system of expectation of honour.

As we hold, always, the question of how we respond lovingly to those who would harm us, we also hold in front of us too the opportunity of how love might, on occasion, reframe the situation creatively into something different that can transform situations of conflict in moments of kingdom witness.  


Matthew 5:38-48

Eye for Eye

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

 

Love for Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.