By Randy Limbird
One of the hardest sayings of Jesus is “Love your enemies.” It’s a hard teaching today, but was even harder in the 1st century. He was preaching to a society that was not reluctant about hating enemies. Those enemies included their Roman oppressors, collaborators such as the tax collectors and the Samaritans, a neighboring tribe that had intermarried with gentiles and developed their own brand of religion.
Jesus taught obedience to the Romans and asked forgiveness for the soldiers who crucified him; he reached out to tax collectors, healed gentiles and treated Samaritans kindly. So Jesus definitely practiced what he preached about loving one’s enemies.
One of the surprising aspects of Jesus’ teaching about loving your enemies is that it is not a matter of learning to love more. You don’t start out loving your closest family and friends and work your way out from there. In fact, Jesus gives short shrift to the traditional love shown among family and friends. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?”
I have often wrestled with this teaching because he makes it sound like loving our family and friends doesn’t count for much. But it is true that there’s nothing specifically Christian about loving kith and kin. Every society, every religion teaches this.
Jesus wasn’t interested in improving the traditional forms of love, however; he was challenging us to love in a completely different way, the way God loves us. God’s love isn’t conditional or transactional; He doesn’t stop loving us because we misbehave or refuse to love Him back.
I don’t think it’s possible to love this way on our own; we have to have that spiritual connection to the source of that kind of love. But I do think we can prepare our hearts to love this way by changing the way we think.
I suspect that most of our enemies are people we’ve never met. They don’t belong to our tribe. They’re Republican or Democrat, they’re educational elite or dumb rednecks, they’re some kind of “deplorable.”
I doubt Jesus ever looked at people this way. Sure, he was born into a tribal culture, like we all are, but he saw others as his Father did, not the way everyone around him did.
Over the last few years, much has been said about “neotribalism,” the rise of tribal thinking about the world, the increase in distrust towards others who are different. Of course, those who bring this up almost always decry the tribalism in others and never see it in themselves.
I suspect that learning to love our enemies starts with questioning why we’re treating them like enemies in the first place. That was the point of Jesus’ parable about the good Samaritan; the person we had labeled as our enemy turned out to be the one person willing to help.
Randy Limbird is editor of
El Paso Scene. Comments?
Send to firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. I recently listened to a sermon called “The Parable of the Good Deplorable” by Jason Micheli. Look it up online; you can find both a text and audio version.
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