“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”
“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 that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” From Matthew 5
Love is such a strong presence in the teachings of Jesus that we almost don’t hear it anymore. “Love God, love your neighbor, blah blah blah. “ Until we get to this section in Matthew. “Love your enemies.”
WHAT??! He did not say that! And, why on earth would I want to do that?
Well, I wouldn’t want to. Which is why he needs to say it. It is so counter-intuitive to think of loving enemies as if they were friends. However we define “enemies” (people who used to be friends; people who annoy us; estranged family; troublemakers; those with scary political ideas), we are asked to treat them the same as we treat our friends. God does it. God loves people we’d describe as good and the ones we’d call evil. God treats everyone the same.
I don’t think this means we should allow ourselves to be abused—after all, loving someone doesn’t mean encouraging that person to continue in evil behavior. But what if we just tried to be a little nicer? To treat the other person the way we might treat a friend? Even to go out of our way to be kind and generous, as Jesus suggests?
Such behavior might or might not have an effect on the other person. But I guarantee it will have an effect on us.
Otherwise, if we live by the old law of getting back at someone—an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth—we’ll all end up blind and toothless.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2011