Christian education has always told us to love our enemies. We are taught in school that this is what Jesus asked us to do. What we were taught about loving our neighbour comes directly from what Jesus taught, right back in his ministry 2000 years ago.
In that ancient time, it was difficult for those who heard this to take it onboard. Loving their neighbours was not what the religious leaders did. It wasn’t what the kings and diplomats and wealthy people did. The law of the Old testament was very often a brutal law, and Jesus refers to this in the Gospel (which has been printed under this post) when he said: ’You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well…’ This rule of eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth was embedded in culture.
It was difficult then, and it is difficult now. So how do we frame this message of Jesus in our own lives, and how do we pull it to ourselves to become people of love?
Firstly, we might use this Gospel message to remind ourselves that Jesus often came to turn around people’s understanding. It is easy to pick the Bible up and think that, because that’s what the Bible says, that’s what Jesus believed. but this is an example of Jesus taking a stand against the Old law, and replacing it with a new commandment. He came with a single commandment to love one another. It can be a temptation to take on certain cultural norms of the Old Testament. But this is not always what Jesus was preaching.
Next, we might consider the difficulty of loving. It probably was never meant to be easy. Let’s put it another way: it is so easy to love the people who already love us, but to love those who do not love us is difficult. This challenge is from Jesus, then.
It has been said in monastic communities: ‘We are called to love each other, not necessarily to like each other.’ And this saying goes to the heart of the Gospel message. To love is to have a care for, to be able to empathize with, to see from a different angle to our own, to calm distress and quell fear, to make safe those who are hurting.
In an enormity of religious communities, from parishes and monasteries to cathedrals and educational institutions, we regularly come across a desperate lack of love in individuals who call themselves followers of Christ. Looking at it under the cold light of day, we must do more than just tell ourselves ‘we are only human’ whilst continuing to cause division. Gossip, unpleasantness, exclusivity, hounding-out: these things simply have no place in the life of Christ, and their presence in the church is a barometer as to the integrity of her members. It is true that’s some have a short fuse, that some are difficult, that’s some are even asking for trouble in the way that they act. Yet these testing situations, which are present in all communities, are exactly what Jesus is talking about when he says: love your enemies. The retort: ‘He deserves it’, or ‘she was asking for it’ is anathema to discipleship. Since when have we been asked by Christ to treat people in the way they deserve? No, He asks more of us. We are Christians. And Christ is asking us, personally, one by one, to root out the spiritual cancer that has taken grip of society, and within the Church, too. Hatred is a spiritual cancer; it is infectious and can spread through a community like wildfire. Let us love, then, and make a special effort, not towards those who already love us, but toward those who do not, towards those who get on our nerves and push our buttons. Let us be Christians.
A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew
(Love your enemies.)
Jesus said to his disciples:’You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.
‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectorsdo as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
The Gospel of the Lord