“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.Matthew 5:43-48
Jesus was always saying offensive things like this. The culture of His day, not unlike our own, operated on an “in-group” and “out-group” mentality. You were to be loyal and loving to “your” people. But you had no obligation to care about the out-group, your enemies that didn’t earn their way into the in-group.
It is in the midst of this cultural climate that Jesus blows it all up. He says just about the most offensive thing one could say. He tells the crowds to not only love their in-group but to love their enemy. This was scandalous! It still is!
Sometimes we don’t understand how offensive Jesus really is until we put it in the context of our own culture.
To the progressives: Jesus isn’t speaking to the crowd and saying, “See, this is why we shouldn’t go to war. We should love our enemy.” No. Jesus was speaking to a crowd of oppressed Jewish people and He was telling them to love the Romans–their violent oppressors. In other words, Jesus was speaking to a crowd full of undocumented immigrants at the border and He was saying, “You need to love Trump! If you don’t love him, you’re no better than he is.”
To the conservatives: Jesus isn’t speaking to a crowd and saying, “You should learn to love the Chinese even though they are communists.” No. Jesus was speaking to the pro-life rally and saying, “You need to love the feminist who flaunts her many abortions as badges of honor. If you don’t love her, you’re no better than she is.”
Whether you are a progressive or a conservative or somewhere in-between, can you feel how offensive this feels? This is Jesus. He was not always easy to be around. His words were not always comforting. He offended. He hurt feelings. He wasn’t always trying to liberate the oppressed from their external oppression, but instead was often trying to free people from sin. He was trying to liberate people from the internal oppression of hatred and bitterness. He wasn’t always trying to enforce external morality, but instead was often inviting people into internal transformation.
Who do you hate? Who can’t you stand? That’s the very person Jesus is commanding you to love. Loving our “in-group” isn’t enough if we are followers of Jesus. We’re called to love our enemy. We’re called to love our enemy until we can see them, not as an enemy, but as a person created in the image of God…a person for whom Jesus died.