Jesus preached, embodied, and enacted the Kingdom of God, and taught his followers to do the same. This kingdom represents the presence of the future, infusing the values and vision of heaven into the present. It encompasses not only love, joy, peace, healing, deliverance, and the presence of the Spirit but also a radical ethic that distinguishes the covenant community as an alternative to prevailing structures, systems, and stories of domination.
This blog post primarily delves into one aspect of this ethical teaching, namely ‘enemy love’
Before exploring this further, it's crucial to reaffirm the significance of obeying Jesus.
To obey Jesus is to establish a firm foundation for when life's storms arrive, akin to the wise man who built his house upon the rock (Matthew 7:24). To hear the words of Jesus and then not to them is akin to a foolish man building his house upon the sand.
Matthew 7:24–27 (ESV): 24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Towards the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, it becomes evident that disseminating Jesus' teachings becomes part of our mission. Our task involves proclaiming the gospel, administering baptism, and conveying Jesus's ethical imperatives to all nations.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV)
For the disciple, obedience to Jesus is not an optional extra but rather an outworking of our allegiance to him.
So what does Jesus have to say about our disposition and action towards those we consider our enemies.
““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48, ESV)
While not quoting from a particular text, Jesus draws from traditional wisdom and deep myth, in which one is to show love to neighbors but hate for enemies. Who is this enemy? We need to remind ourselves that Jesus lived within a colonized people group who were subjugated and dominated by Rome and regularly spoke of a coming conflict with Rome, which would result in the destruction of Jerusalem. Hatred of the enemy was hatred of Rome, the hatred of those who persecuted the community. This hatred was fueled by a history of oppression, the execution of rebels, and the present reality of taxation, while much of the country lived at or below the poverty line.
Jesus challenges the prevailing ideology of loving one's own while harboring hate toward adversaries. This contrast is evident in his call to 'love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'
In a world steeped in ethnocentric nationalism and ruled by forces like Rome, Jesus's words wouldn't have seemed cryptic to his followers. Instead, they would have been seen as a challenging command, demanding real-world application in a society marked by domination and oppression.
Jesus's words weren't just clever rhetoric but a demanding call for a moral standard beyond conventional understanding. Enemy love offers an opportunity, as salt and light, to represent the vision and values of the kingdom.
Embracing this new ethic means that, amidst domination and oppression, a community sets itself apart as the 'sons of your Father who is in heaven.' Being a child of God, in anticipation of the coming Kingdom, means loving one's enemies. Jesus stated a similar idea earlier in the Sermon on the Mount: 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God' (Matthew 5:9, ESV). This suggests that, bringing these two texts together, peacemakers are those who love their enemies and pray for them. This is not a love for the system, structure, and stories of domination, but for those who are influenced by it and seek to harm the community.
This new ethic of the kingdom, manifested through love for one's enemy, starkly contrasts the traditional wisdom of 'loving those who love you.' The new kingdom narrative prompts individuals to march to a different beat from the prevailing culture. Loving one's enemy is embodying the life of the Heavenly Father, for, as Jesus stated, we 'must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.'
In our own day the church of Jesus is called to embrace the kingdom ethic of Jesus through love of enemies.