Matthew 5:38-48

"Concerning Retaliation 38 'You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies 43 'You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy." 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."


If you want an easy life, do not become a follower of the Jesus way.

Most of us probably do not have life-threatening enemies. Nor should we go around looking for enemies. Of course, an enemy can be a hostile violent terrorist or invading army, but for most of us we never have to face such people. In our day-to-day life it is more than likely that the 'enemy' is someone who is intent on injuring us, be it, for example, verbally, physically or, psychologically. Sometimes the 'enemy' appears as one who is hypercritical, intolerant, malicious, miserly, self righteous, or just down right unpleasant.

An enemy can be someone in a superior position in the work place: a line manager or someone responsible for an annual appraisal who, for whatever known or unknown reason, can block the progress of another's career.

Sometimes it is another person in the fellowship of the local church or in the wider church who takes exception to what another says or does.

Sometimes it can be a neighbour or a friend - someone who once was very close but has turned their back on the other and seems to want nothing but their personal pain and loss.

It can be a member of one's own family - a parent or partner or even a child. Sometimes a person will know that he or she has created an enemy owing to what he or she has said or done to cause the rift. But at other times a person may never know the root cause of the change in relationship.

In one sense, for another to create an enemy of you is their problem although you have to live with the consequences. However, if you knowingly create an enemy of another, then it is your problem and you need to solve it for both you and the other person involved.

But no matter how the 'enemy' has been created and no matter how that impacts upon you, the commission we have as followers of Jesus is simple and straightforward: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven."

Now what does it mean 'to love'? Love is difficult to define. There is at the shallowest level, the sense of 'emotional warm feelings' when being with some very special person. It exists at the level of frothy affection and pleasure. Such 'love' turns up time and time again in novels, television soaps, theatre and cinema productions. It is the natural affection stuff of "Bridget Jones' Diary", "Love Actually", "Notting Hill" and hundreds of other similar movies.

There is nothing wrong with such 'love' but it is not the totality of love. From my pastoral experience so many marriages or relationships go sadly wrong because the people involved think that love exists only at this superficial level. They never take the risk of going deeper into the love that can hurt themselves.

But the love to which Jesus directs us is about taking risks for the benefit of the other. This is the Jesus agape love - unconditional love for another. Such agape love is the most used description of God's love lived out by Jesus in the Christian Testament. It is concerned with personal sacrifice for the sake of the one whom we love. It is demonstrated by the commitment to want the very best for the other person who is the object of one's love.

It is the love that puts the needs of the other before our own needs. Just think of the mother or father putting their own lives at risk for the sake and health of their own child. At its deepest, love is giving yourself so totally to another person that you also give them the capability to break your own heart, yet you have confidence in them not to do so.

But we do need to be realistic. There is this way of Jesus - the way of the costly depth of love - and there is the reality of life in the world where we spend our days. Sometimes the wisdom of the world is that we should move away from those who hate us. Sometimes the wisdom of the world is the first strike scenario - to hit the enemy before the enemy can hit us.

The wisdom of the world is to love our family and friends because the chances are that they will love us in return. As followers of the Jesus Way we should have no problem with loving those who love us - but that is not enough. Loving those who love us can be little more than enlightened self-interest.

Shantideva, the 8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar and author said, "All those who are unhappy in the world are so as a result of their desire for their own happiness. All those who are happy in the world are so as a result of their desire for the happiness of others."

But the challenge of Jesus is not just to love those who love us - it is to love and to forgive those who hate us; to love and forgive those who have become our enemy. In the deeply challenging and profound video 'Beyond Forgiving' [details on http://www.permissiontospeak.org.uk] there are 3 vital points for me:

1] recognising our own [albeit sometimes innocent] complicity in the situation of enemy and hatred;

2] setting aside any personal and justifiable right to seek revenge against the other;

3] recognising the humanity / divinity within the other.

Our sacred commission is to do whatever we can to benefit our enemies; to honourably serve the best interests of those who have vowed to use us, to discriminate against us, to bring shame on us, or even to destroy us. Loving one's enemy in this way is the outworking of a deep spiritual maturity.

It is this agape, self-sacrificing depth of love and compassion that is the most powerful transformational energy in the whole of Creation. Such love means that we cannot stand on the sideline and watch others being abused. Agape love puts us in the firing line.

It is such agape love that takes, for example, people from the international community on to the West Bank as members of 'The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.' The Ecumenical Accompaniers experience life under military occupation, often standing between the dispossessed Palestinians and the over powering military might of Israeli oppression. Ecumenical Accompaniers also support those Palestinians and Israelis who are working together for a peaceful and just solution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict. Ecumenical Accompaniers offer a shielding presence to defenceless neighbourhoods, keeping an eye on and reporting human rights abuses. More than one Ecumenical Accompanier has been shot dead by Israeli troops or crushed to death by Israeli bulldozers destroying Palestinian homes. There is nothing easy in agape love.

The power of compassionate self-sacrificing love may provoke even greater hatred, but it may also transform the enemy into a friend. Can you imagine how the people sitting there and listening to Jesus must have felt? They had been hit for six! These were people who had been taught 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' and were now being told by Jesus that although such an approach to life's problems was a limit to one's vengeance, it was less than God required. The agape love of God towards them and then from them towards even their enemies was the new Jesus ideal. Agape love was and remains loving the loveless and the unlovely; forgiving those who we may feel have no right to be forgiven.

The great question however is this, "How do we live agape love when it is against our natural inclinations so to do?" The answer may be in the words of John Wesley in his Rule for Christian living:

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

And we are called to offer love like this not just for those who love us - but this is how we are to treat those who hate us. This is how we are to care for our enemies and our friends alike. It is an act of sacred will. The greatest barrier to loving an enemy is an inability or unwillingness to forgive and to forget those things that the enemy has inflicted upon us. To be able to truly love our enemy we have to let go of the past.

Over Christmas 1957, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. preached at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. It was from the basement of this church that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was conducted and coordinated. Although the Civil Rights marchers at that time were constantly abused, beaten, imprisoned, and in some cases murdered by police as well as by members of organisations such as the Ku Klux Klan, his sermon dealt with the question of how to love their enemies. The answer for Martin Luther King was rooted in forgiveness.

His sermon that day included the following: "First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one's enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us. It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression."

After 27 years held prisoner by the white minority governments of South Africa, Nelson Mandela emerged from captivity to lead a peaceful transition of power from the minority white to the majority black, many of whom were baying for the blood of the white oppressors. In the face of this Mandela said, "I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man…. If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.… To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others…. If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness."

And a final quote from an unexpected source: "Think of the life of the great Master Jesus... one sees that from beginning to end there was nothing but love and forgiveness. The best expression of love is that love which is expressed in forgiveness."

So who said that about Jesus? It was Hazrat Inayat Khan, founder of the Sufi Order in the West, a mystical expression of Islam. He was born in India in 1882 and from 1911 he spent 15 years travelling throughout Europe and the United States, giving lectures and guiding an ever-growing group of spiritual seekers. In 1926, he returned to India and died there in 1927.

All these great leaders and teachers held in common the belief that enemies are those people whom we are to love and to care for; that our enemies are those for whom we should be prepared even to die. Such love is agape love - it is God's standard of love. It is the love and compassion that will transform the lover and the beloved.

Jesus said, '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. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

Jesus is recorded as having said, "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour 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? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

QUESTIONS FOR INDIVIDUAL OR GROUP DISCUSSION
  1. It is difficult for most of us to imagine how we would feel if we had experienced the extreme suffering and fear caused by the political and racial tensions described in this study but most of us have experienced painful tensions in our relationships with others. Consider how you dealt with these and what you may have found helpful in resolving the problem. What most helped you in dealing with your own hurt and anger?

  2. Victims of crime often speak about needing justice in order to achieve 'closure'. What do you think is the relationship between forgiveness and justice?

  3. The quotation at the end of the sermon about 'turning the other cheek, giving the enemy your coat and going the extra mile' are understood by scholars as references to the experience of the Jews in an occupied country when the Roman soldiers could commandeer their service in carrying a load and making them give up the very clothes off their backs. Would the response that Jesus advises be an act of weakness or an assertion of moral superiority?

  1. Forgiveness is sometimes portrayed as a 'soft option' for those who are too weak and cowardly to stand up against bullies. In the chapter entitled 'Marks of the True Christian', the Apostle Paul wrote, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' No, 'if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." [Romans 12:17-21 NRSV Anglicised]. How is this as an alternative form of strength?

NB: This sermon / study is adapted from Study 3 [book 3] in the series of studies for group discussion written by Ted Bishop, John Churcher and Betty Saunders (2011),'Toward a New Understanding of Jesus: An Unfinished Journey' [Book 3 "From Easter to Pentecost and Beyond"]

Copyright ©: 2014, Rev John Churcher. All rights reserved. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Anglicised ®, Copyright © 1989 American Bible Society. All rights reserved.