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SOTM #7: Loving Enemies

August 2, 2010

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor 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.

As we came to this part of the SOTM, we struggled with the difficult teachings presented by Jesus. “Love your enemies.” “Pray for those who persecute you.” “Be perfect…” We have been going with the idea that this “sermon” is intended to be actually lived out, but it’s getting harder by the word!

In the previous passage we looked at some creative nonviolent responses that Jesus was advocating (and lived out-considering his Passion). I quoted from Walter Wink in that instance, and look to Wink again here for some commentary on this passage:

Here it is enough to remark that Jesus did not advocate nonviolence merely as a technique for outwitting the enemy, but as a just means of opposing the enemy in such a way as to hold open the possibility of the enemy’s becoming just as well. Both sides must win. We are summoned to pray for our enemies transformation, and to respond to ill-treatment with a love that not only is godly but also, I am convinced, can only be found in God. (46)

Transformation through suffering and sacrifice. Consider how Jesus lived out his instruction to “love enemies”:

  • He was struck;
  • He was stripped bare of everything;
  • He was forced by a Roman soldier to carry a heavy burden.

But don’t forget what happened, right after that, to his “enemy”. Matthew recorded the centurion’s response as, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Transformation!

Of course, it is not easy (and it’s not promised to be), but it does seem to be possible that enemies can be transformed through love. So can we really ever declare an enemy to be “evil”? The adjective “evil” in this case usually means “beyond redemption”-I have heard this word used to describe various individuals, from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the heroin dealers in my neighborhood. I’m having trouble thinking that anyone is truly beyond what the love of God can do in their lives. Perhaps courage is what we need to also be praying for in order for this instruction to be made flesh?

We also looked at the word “perfect” as meaning “to be whole” or “complete”, or in the sense of moving toward maturity. The promise of scripture is that God’s way leads to wholeness. So as disciples of Jesus (disciples=people continually moving toward maturity) we commit to imitating the way of Jesus, to living life on a trajectory toward wholeness. We try to follow and reflect Christ, who shows us who God is, so that the world may know who God is-even our enemies.

One Comment
  1. August 3, 2010 2:21 pm

    This is such a critical part of the text because it essentially reminds us that to obey Christ is not a pragmatic decision, at least not in respect to our enemies. They may very well discover transformation, but they may just as likely persecute or even kill us. Yet we are to obey Christ anyway. We obey Christ because He is right, not simply because it works. A shift from our cultural perspective, eh? Good post.

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