“. . . love your enemies . . .”.
Almost everyone is familiar with that command. And almost everybody thinks that, while perhaps an ideal, it is hopelessly unrealistic. Maybe. But maybe some context might help us understand how central this really is to being Christian.
What, after all, does it mean to be Christian? Not to save ourselves, as perhaps we once thought. God has done that for us. No, our job is to continue the work of Jesus – the Jesus who called people to change their priorities and submit to God’s gentle reign. Christians are a community of disciples, having disciple roles, and doing disciple work.
We need to ask ourselves: If someone is mean and hateful and spiteful, self-centered and angry – in short, our enemy – do we want that person to go into eternal damnation? We can’t want that. Jesus gives Himself for that person, just as much as He does for me. Jesus counts on us to help that person accept the love God offers. How can that person know of God’s forgiveness if he doesn’t experience it in me?
But love our enemies? Once again, we bump up against the inadequacies of translations. “Love” here is not a matter of warm fuzzy feelings or the affection of friendship. The verb used by Matthew might be better translated as “to care about”, or “to be concerned about”, “to care enough to want to help”. It’s with that kind of care and concern that Jesus and Stephen prayed for those who were killing them. Saving such individuals is precisely why Jesus came and why we’re Christians.
From my vantage point, there is a big difference between me and my persecutor, between me and the terrorist bomber, between me and the child rapist. But the simple fact is that both of us are equally in need of God’s saving love, which God freely gives, as this passage from Matthew clearly attests. Our heavenly Father causes His sun and rain to fall upon the good and the bad, the just and the unjust.
Love our enemies? Unrealistic? It can’t be – must not be! As St. Paul says “. . . test the genuineness of your love by your concern for others.” (2 Cor 8:8) All others. Even enemies.