While reading the Sermon on the Mount last night, the all too familiar passage began to speak to me in a new way. “Love your enemies” Jesus says. I heard it a thousand times, yet I never realized how far I was from grasping the gravity of such a statement. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32). You ever notice how Jesus has a way of using sarcasm to sting your very soul?
First thought that came to mind… who is my enemy? At first glance, my concept of an enemy is pretty petty. My enemy is the inconsiderate driver who cuts me off, she’s the rude customer service agent who dismisses my concerns, he’s the obnoxious waiter who ignores my attempt to get his attention. It’s one thing to love those who inconvenience you, but it’s another category to love actual enemies. The kind of people who leave deep wounds in your heart, those who have hurt the ones you love, or those who have divided your family. When Jesus talks about loving your enemies, he’s talking about the very person you hate. The one who deserves absolutely nothing from you.
As I read those words I began to think about those in Rwanda who had to face their persecutors in the market after the genocide. I can’t imagine the hatred that would brew after experiencing such senseless violence. I remember reading the stories from South Africa and the intense emotions felt within the Truth and Reconciliation assemblies as victims confronted their perpetrators (see video below). As I thought about these extreme situations, the gravity of Jesus’ command to “love our enemies” began to weigh more heavily on my shoulders. I’m having enough trouble forgiving those who have emotionally hurt my family, how could victims of crime, harassment and violence love, let alone forgive, those who have wronged them? It’s impossible to conceive the fulfillment of such a command. I see no method or strategy that could inspire one to accomplish this task.
When Jesus hits these kinds of points in his sermon, he must have left the crowds with a sense of defeat. Whenever Jesus speaks, he seems to be pushing the law to a deeper and more unattainable level. It’s as if he was teasing us along his way to the cross, dropping hints here and there of our need for more strength than we can conjure up. It’s as if he was saying “Want to live by the law? Well here it is. Here’s the reality of what we’re asking for. Murder equates hate, so don’t hate. Lust equates adultery, so don’t lust. Don’t pride yourself in loving the neighbors that love you, why don’t you try loving your enemies for a change.”
Jesus bring us to the end of ourselves. He leads us to a dead end so we can stop looking to the left or to the right. Horizontal solutions can’t help us here. He brings us to such places so that we have no choice but to look up. Through the law, Jesus shows us our need for a demonstration in the sky (Rom 3:20), an example that not only shows us how it’s done, but one that empowers us to accomplish what we cannot do.
In recognizing what an enemy really is, you begin to realize the extent of Jesus’ love. Before the incarnation, generations neglected his presence despite his favor. His people cheated on him, worshiping other gods, and attributing his gifts and blessings to mistresses and one night stands (Hosea 2). Our indulgence in the flesh brought forth a hostility between us and God (Rom 8:7) that goes far deeper than any earthy disagreement. We hated him, mocked him in his presence and spit on his face. We drove nails in hands and feet and gave him ever reason to resent us.
Jesus loved his enemies. That’s why I can’t demean those words I read last night. He substantiates them by the way he died, by the way he asked God to forgive us while we put him on the cross. I love this God! What a kind and merciful God we serve! More than an exhortation to forgive, my hope is for all of us to marinate in the knowledge of Christ’ love. Let’s go back to the simple truth that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Hopefully, as we dwell on his forgiveness, mercy will push its way through our stubborn hearts.