Love Thine Enemy

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father, which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

— Matthew 5:43-48

Is this not at length too much to expect? Will a man ever love his enemies? He may come to do good to them that hate him; but when will he pray for them that despitefully use him and persecute him? When?

When he is the child of his Father in heaven. Then shall he love his neighbor as himself, even if that neighbor is his enemy. In the passage in Leviticus 19:18, quoted by our Lord and his apostles, we find the neighbor and the enemy are one: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord.”

Look at the glorious way in which Jesus interprets the scripture that went before him. “I am the Lord” –“That ye may be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Is it then reasonable to love our enemies? God does; therefore it must be the highest reason. But is it reasonable to expect that man should become capable of doing so? Yes, on one ground: that the divine energy is at work in man, to render at length man’s doing divine as his nature is. For this our Lord prayed when he said: “That they all may be one, as thou Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.” Nothing could be less likely to human judgment; yet our Lord knows that one day it will come. 

Commentary

If you spend much time on Facebook, as I am guilty of doing, it won’t be long before you come face to face with what I like to call the ‘Americanized Gospel’. This is the gospel of patriotism, pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, and obtaining ‘success’ by one’s own teeth-gritting, determined effort. Such cultural ideas might not be ‘Christian’ by intent, but the ideas behind them are loaded with an unconscious reinterpretation of Christian ethics. You can spot it in memes and beach-at-sunrise JPEGs that proclaim things like ‘Respect is something you earn’, or ‘The road to success is commitment.’

One of the problems with an Americanized Gospel, and there are many, is that the church in our country historically finds it very hard to love certain segments of society. The failures. The poor. The ones who have not succeeded according to the ideals of the interpreted creed. These are, in thought if not in actual statement, considered to be shiftless, unformed beings who refuse to seize the chances life has offered them.

A person who hold to this mutilated form of the teachings of Jesus will find it very hard, impossible really, to love a true enemy. Because a true enemy will be measured on the success scale, as is everyone and everything, and found wanting. He will be disposed of mentally with the thought, ‘That is one bad person.’ A victim of this false Gospel is unable to see outside the cultural measurements we have for ‘success’ and ‘failure.’ Thus, she is unable to love that which falls short, and exhibits hopeless and ‘unchristian’ flaws.

This American Gospel is outer, ego-based. It looks at the outside of a person and pronounces him fit or unfit depending on performance. The spiritual teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are inner. His words speak hope, life, and peace to the worst of us, regardless of position or motive. To view the spiritual reality of the inner as the only true reality is the only possible way to love an enemy.

Respect is not something a person earns. It is something we give to every living being, out of respect for the life-giver himself. Our success does not depend on our own strength. True success is what we are becoming inside, not what the world sees on the outside. If we could keep our commitments to begin with, we would have no need of the true Gospel, which preaches forgiveness and ultimate equality for everyone on the moral ‘ladder.’

An encounter with spiritual reality, versus cultural interpretations of how we ought to be, will cure us of the need for anger and judgment. The discovery that people society views as failures can actually be greater successes spiritually than popular success icons, moral teachers, or insightful writers, levels the 'ladder ideal' that some people are better and higher than others. The realization that inside of each one us lives the potential for every evil, and potentially every good, shifts the lens to allow love and forgiveness to people who harm us.

Spiritual truth is centered on oneness. We are not separate from those who do evil; we are those who do evil. As we treat an evildoer, so we treat ourselves, and so we treat God himself. The playing field is actually, in reality, completely flat. In order to love an enemy, or a husband or wife or child, we must break free from the false teachings of Americanized Christian ethics and seek the heart of a God who died for all men, not because of what we are, but because of who He is.