[Here is another excerpt from a sermon from some time ago—October 2005]
If there is one passage in the entire Bible that points to both the glory and the shame of Christianity, it is this famous statement by Jesus: “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” (Matt 5:44-45). Here we have a direct statement of a profound ideal, a call to break the cycle of violence that so bedevils our world. And here we have as stark a reminder as we could imagine of just how far Christianity tends to have strayed from the will of its founder.
The cost of hating enemies
“Love your enemies,” such an obvious statement of what our world needs. We see so clearly in our present day how hatred of enemies fuels war with simply incredible costs. In the name of stamping out “terrorists” our country spent billions upon billions to pour violence upon the nation of Iraq, diverted resources in a way that made the Gulf Coast more vulnerable to devastation from recent hurricanes, alienated people throughout the world, and sent hundreds upon hundreds of our soldiers to their death along with thousands upon thousands of Iraqis. This hatred fuels a spinning cycle, eye for an eye for an eye leading to more and more blindness.
Hatred of enemies fuels our nation’s prison-industrial complex. We send millions behind bars where they are all too often brutalized, infected with devastating diseases such as hepatitis, and permanently disenfranchised as stakeholders in civil society. As someone said, no matter how long a convicted criminal’s official sentence might be, it is invariably a “life sentence” in terms of the impact going to prison has on one’s life. In the name of “security,” we only increase the spiral of destruction and alienation.
In many other ways as well, hatred of enemies leads to unhappiness, brokenness, pain being visited upon pain—and the cycle of creating only more hatred. So, Jesus’ words cut like a warm knife through butter. He gets to the heart of things. We need to find ways to love instead of hate and to forgive instead of simply punish and to heal when there is brokenness, not simply retaliate. We also need the vision of God these verses give us. The One who models love for enemies and who offers generosity and genuine wholeness, who gives us hope, who empowers us to find another way from the spiral of death.
Jesus’ words seem so obvious. What could be more straightforward and more needed than Jesus’ incisive words? We need them now more than ever; they come to us straight and clear. If it were only that simple. If only Jesus’ words would set the agenda for Christians in our needy world today. If only being a Christian would mean ending hatred of enemies. But, it doesn’t work this way, sad to say. We Christians actually aren’t that good at loving our enemies. I struggle to understand why. Continue reading