If we’re honest some words of Jesus have become so familiar to us that we overlook the context and the impact they would have had on their first audience – and ultimately what they really mean for us today. Take ‘Love your enemies’ (Matt 5:44).
How radical was Jesus really being? Some might think that He was replacing a command to ‘hate your enemies’ in the Old Testament with a new instruction to ‘love your enemies’, but there was no instruction to ‘hate’ enemies in the Old Testament.
The reverse is true. In Exodus 23: 4-5 and Proverbs 24:17 and 25:21 God tells His people to help their enemies, to feed them when they are hungry and not to be glad when they fall. For Jesus’ first century audience, who would have been familiar with the religious leaders telling them to ‘hate their enemies’, it would have been a sober reminder of God’s truth. No more justifying hatred towards others. No more giving in to one’s baser instincts. No more distorting God’s word for one’s own political ends. They would have had no problem ‘hating their enemies’ (such as the occupying Romans) but Jesus was having none of it. He was taking them back to the true way, one that directly clashed with the teaching of the day.
Today Christians face the same response for telling the truth either in word or deed, pointing people back to the Scripture and against the prevailing thinking. We can see it in our own country, but even more so around the world where the persecution of Christians is rife. In this edition, Bishop Wallace Benn reflects on this truly counter-cultural message, while on other pages you can see how Christians loving their enemies has had an impact on their communities around the world.
Throughout this year we will be looking at Scripture verses that teach us how to overcome hatred with love. We see it in effect with our persecuted brothers and sisters but it also applies to our own lives. If we loved our enemies how would that impact our communities?
Imagine someone you consider an ‘enemy’, perhaps someone at your work or in your street, handing you an envelope. Inside is a card telling you how much they appreciate you along with a £20 note for you to spend on a little treat for yourself. How would you feel? Would you still consider that person an enemy? I expect not. By them putting into practice the command to ‘love their enemies’ they would have turned an enemy into a friend, and there would be a little less hatred in the world. Three little words spoken by Jesus two thousand years ago can still change the world today