Part 1 of 2
Originally posted Feb. 18, 2011, at Sarcastic Lutheran. Republished with permission of the author.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “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 where exactly is it is written, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemies”?
That’s just not found in the Torah.
I searched for it — it’s not there, sure the love your neighbor thing is in the Old Testament, but hate your enemy?
Good luck! It’s like trying to look for “God helps those who help themselves.” It’s simply not in the Bible.
But then I realized why “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” sounds so familiar — it might not be in the Bible, but I’m pretty sure it’s in my heart.
It’s in our DNA. So if you’re trying to find where “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” is found, don’t look in the Old Testament — look here.
When I realized, this it felt like a bad horror movie — “The phone call is coming from inside the house.” See, in my heart I want to savor my anger and resentments.
You may be able to turn them into love but my anger and hatred is special.
It’s justified and if I can get other people to hate the people I hate, then all the better.
Knowing why each of my enemies clearly deserves to be hated is like a big delicious meal, until I realize I’m the main course. Because hatred is simply a corrosive form of spiritual bondage.
So Jesus says, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”
Before we go on, let me say this: loving your enemy and praying for those who persecute you is not the same as saying that it’s OK that someone has caused you emotional, spiritual or physical harm.
I don’t think Jesus is saying that we should dismiss, discount or diminish the very real harm done to us by damaged people.
So when Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” I don’t think he means we should try to muster up a positive emotional feeling about despicable people.
Loving those who persecute you is simply not the same as saying you should feel affection toward the people who have hurt you, or that you should feel fondness for people who are mean to you at work.
Jesus uses agape when he tells us to love our enemies. Agape love isn’t about what we feel in our hearts.
It’s not a sentiment. I actually don’t think it has to do with feelings at all — agape is the love that’s only possible through the indwelling of God’s Spirit.
Remember when your mom made you apologize to your brother or sister and you just kind of phoned it in — “sorry.” And she said, “Say it like you mean it — it doesn’t count if you don’t mean it.” Yeah, this isn’t like that.
I think loving our enemies might be too central to the gospel, too close to the heart of Jesus for it to wait until we mean it. I don’t mean it. And my heart — remember the very place where I found that impulse that I am to love my neighbor and hate my enemy — isn’t going to purify itself.
So if God is waiting for that same heart to feel nice, loving, warm, pink-fuzzy things about someone who is my enemy, well, God might be waiting awhile.
So if it’s not a feeling we try very hard to create in our own hearts maybe “agape-ing” — loving our enemies — is actually an action.
Given the choice between feeling the thing and doing the thing, I think the doing of the thing is what is critical here. And maybe “really meaning it” is not the prerequisite to just doing it and maybe the action we take is simply this: we pray for those who persecute us.
Commend them to God.
You don’t have to feel affection for them, just hand ’em over.
Because this counter-intuitive act of enemy-love requires prayer.
It doesn’t require the right feelings of niceness or generosity. It requires that you commend your enemies to the One who has perfected the love of enemy.
It requires being in the prayerful presence of God, who was killed by God’s enemies, and then rather than retaliation, violence, or an eye for an eye, God used that same death to be the very thing that ended up being the source of their salvation.
Continued on LivingLutheran.com March 5, 2011
Find a link to Nadia Bolz-Weber’s blog Sarcastic Lutheran at Lutheran Blogs.