There’s a lot of hatred spewing out in our world these days. It’s like a soda can that’s been shaken up, and then the top is ripped off. Hatred in the Middle East. Hatred in the Muslim world. Hatred spewing from the White House, hatred filling town hall meetings across America, spilling out on the streets and college campuses.
It’s all around us. The garden-variety of so-called “rages” that exist. Road-rage. Air-rage. Race-rage. Rage in the workplace. Rage in school hallways. What’s going on? Jesus said in the last days of earth, “because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold”. Could this be us? Is there any way to get this genie of hatred back into the bottle? Is there anyone out there who can show the world that another way is possible?
As a matter of fact, there is a group of people walking the earth today who have been given a command from their leader to show the world that another way is possible. We call them Christians; they follow the one called Jesus Christ; and Jesus gave his followers this command: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also…Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
In earlier devotions we handled some objections raised against this teaching. We’ve talked about what it doesn’t mean. So what is Jesus telling us specifically to do here? Here’s one idea.
Loving my enemy means:
I will watch the way I speak of and think of my enemy. My enemy is someone worth understanding.
Jesus tells us, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”
The action of blessing and cursing has to do with our lips. How often is it that our first response against people who have harmed us is to curse them with our lips? We do it in warfare. We do it with other races. We do it when we’re gossiping at the coffee pot with our co-workers. “Did you hear what that moron boss of ours did the other day?” We do it in our cars as we drive to work. We engage in bumper to bumper combat with others on the road. And we call down curses on the idiots and buffoons that cross us.
The first step of hatred is to dehumanize my enemy, and we begin this process with language. And if I can strip my enemy of his or her humanity, it makes it easier to then fight them.
But Jesus says to us, Don’t lose sight of the humanity of the one who is your enemy. Here are people who feel like you do. They feel pleasure and pain just like you. They have mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, just like you do. Somehow in your struggle against those who are evil, don’t lose sight of that.
More often than not, there is always a story behind people’s behavior. Not that it excuses their behavior. (Underline that sentence!) It doesn’t. And not that it means we shouldn’t corral their behavior. Especially when their behavior is evil. Conservatives are swift to brand, judge and punish the behavior. Liberals are swift to “be nice”, and “understand” and “show leniency”. But Jesus is insistent that with wisdom, we ought to be able to do both.
In teaching non-violence, Jesus is not forbidding a Christian to defend himself if, for example, a thief breaks into his house. Keep in mind that the context of Jesus’ teaching on loving our enemies has to do with being persecuted for our faith, not crossing paths with a criminal.
If a wild animal breaks into my house, I’ll do everything and anything to protect my family from that animal. A criminal who acts lawlessly is no better than a wild animal. A few years ago, a pastor was killed in the town where I lived in Connecticut when a mentally ill man assaulted him. Put in a similar situation, I would not turn the other cheek, I assure you. If I came across someone assaulting another person, I would not walk away. I haven’t watched football for nothing all these years.
Nonetheless, we can’t lose sight of the humanity of our enemy. It’s easy for us to look at a teen-age boy who enlists to become a suicide bomber and simply brand him as “Evil”, and leave it at that. But what’s the story behind this? What’s fueling the anger, the despair, the hopelessness?
It’s easy for us to pat ourselves on the back for being a morally superior people, but how would you behave if you had to grow up in a shanty town in Palestine, or in Pakistan, where you were thrust into a school at the age of 3, and hate-mongering clerics began teaching you to chant verses from the Koran along with anti-Western slogans.
How would you turn out? When faced with someone who is an enemy, our heads swell. We elevate ourselves over them. We tell ourselves we’re better than they are. But what if we’re not better? What if we’re just fortunate?
Loving my enemies means I will watch the way I speak of and think of them. My enemy is someone worth understanding.