Truth Bomb: The Bible does not say you should “hate your enemies.” It’s not in there, not in the Old Testament or the New.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” is in the Old Testament, as well as most of the other laws Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount.
This is the last sermon of a series. See intro & other sermons.
The neighbors and enemies lesson is a matter of scripture (Love your neighbor) and interpretation (therefore, we may hate our enemies). Jesus stands in the tradition of the laws and prophets when he teaches, “You must love your enemies and pray for those who harass you,” but somewhere along the line folks had decided which laws they would obey and which they would flex, embellish, or ignore. Some of God’s expectations of us are difficult!
Jesus’ original listeners needed a reminder about what God had said, and we do as well.
The Sermon on the Mount shows how we Christians struggle with accepting all of Jesus’ teachings. We flex, embellish, or ignore the difficult teachings of this sermon with interpretations that soften Jesus’ demands. A couple of today’s examples are:
Jesus wasn’t only teaching obedience to God’s law, but also how the oppressed Jews could be subversive to the Roman government. Thus less emphasis on selflessness and more on sticking it to the man.
The impossibility of Jesus’ commands shows us we CAN’T fulfill them and must rely on God’s grace.
We certainly do need God’s grace, but Jesus is clear that these teachings are for us, for our lives as humans, our treatment of other humans, and our belonging to God “our Father who is in heaven.”
Just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. (Mt.5:48)
Lead us not into temptation, Lord, to diminish your word or be selective in your teachings. Lead us not into our great temptation of loving only those people who love us, the ones who are easy to love.
We have a problem with the word “Enemy.” It makes us squirm. We want to claim that we don’t have any enemies; we already love everyone, so this teaching is not for us. What’s next?
Jesus knows us pretty well, though, and he speaks as though everyone listening has enemies. Let’s sit with that… Jesus doesn’t even say not to call them our enemies, but just to love them.
Lead us not into the temptation of believing we are above creating enemies for ourselves.
John Ames, the story-teller of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead*, tells a wonderful story of loving enemies, or at least, people whom the country had declared enemies.
Ames’ grandfather lived during the Civil War and told him of an abolitionist town that had a problem with its freshly dug Underground Railroad tunnel. The town was recently settled, and just as soon as they started on building a store and a church, the people also went to work digging a place of safety for escaping slaves.
After the tunnel’s completion, a stranger passed through town on a very large horse and stopped on the road, just over the tunnel, where he experienced quite a surprise. He and his horse sank into the road. The stranger looked around in confusion, and the townspeople pretended to be equally shocked. They didn’t know the stranger’s thoughts on slavery and the Underground Railroad. Both the townspeople and all the freed slaves they had assisted would be at risk if the wrong people learned of the tunnel.
The experience of the stranger and the townspeople’s hustle to find a solution to the stuck-horse and collapsed tunnel are laughable, but the story also reveals the people’s great love at the risk of their own lives and wellbeing. Eventually they had to move their whole town because no matter how they tried to fill in the old tunnel, the next rainfall caused a dip in the road, revealing where the illegal escape once was. To protect the slaves they had assisted, they uprooted their entire lives.
According to the country, escaping slaves were the enemy, but those townspeople loved them to the extent of risking their own lives.
Today as our country and we ourselves draw lines between neighbors and enemies, let us be complete in showing love to both. Lead us not into the temptation of loving only those who are like us, only those who also love us, only those who are easy to love. Our God did die for us, while we were still enemies of God.
Just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.
* Robinson, Marilynne. Gilead, New York: Picador, 2004. 58-63.