In the 5th chapter of Luke starting in verse 43 Jesus is recorded as saying, “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 children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 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 and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
It certainly does not take a theologian or an expert in hermeneutics to interpret what Jesus is saying here. It is plain as day and something we hear in Sunday school a lot, yet we hardly ever truly observe it. What does loving your enemy actually mean? It might possibly mean that we are to….love our enemy? What if Jesus was serious when he said to love our enemy? What does that mean for us? What does that mean for the war in Iraq? What does that mean for our interaction with terrorists groups? What does that mean for civil and human rights issues? What does that mean for the person we split doctrinal hairs with?
In the first testament of Scripture, we see the beautiful story of Yahweh’s interaction with poor, sorry Israel. Yahweh had called Israel to be a peculiar nation set apart for the entire world to see as different. They were to embody the good law of God to the world. They were to enact love upon the nations, with the hope and dream of transforming all they met by their peculiar way of life and their undying, unwavering devotion to their God. However, the sad story is that they wanted to be like all the other nations. They weren’t comfortable with peculiarity. They wanted to be ruled by an earthly King; they wanted a temple in which they could worship their God. The rest is theological history.
Fast forward to about 30 AD. Israel had not seen a prophet in about 400 years. They were wondering where their God Yahweh was. They were living under serious Roman imperial tyranny, where they were being completely exploited and taken advantage of. They were under double taxation, which meant they were paying temple tax and imperial tax (and most of the imperial tax was beefed up for the tax collectors benefit). There were laws in place that allowed a Roman Centurion to make a Jewish citizen carry there gear up to a mile. Life was not the best. Israel has its eyes completely pealed for a Messiah that will bring a military reign and overpower the Empire. They were waiting for a coming king that would scatter their ermines and restore them and their land. You can only imagine their outrage and shock when Jesus comes onto the scene and powerfully combats their ensnaring questions with answers like, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile (Matt 5:38ff).” Could you just see the expression of the religious leaders?! This was not what they were expecting from a Messiah.