The Sermon on the Mount-Revenge and Love of Enemies
Learn what Jesus meant by Love your Enemies.
“You have to admit, love your enemies is a strange thing to say. I couldn’t quite believe it as I heard his words ripple through the crowd. What, even the Romans who have come to occupy our land? How are we supposed to love them? The other Rabbi’s are pretty clear about the law of Moses ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ – they say a punishment has to fit the crime, although these days they tend to allow a compensation payment if someone hurts someone else. Can you imagine what life would be like if we received exactly the same back when we do something wrong but I don’t know if I can put into practice what Jesus is saying. Can I really forgive someone who has wronged me ? If I love someone who hates me will it change them? More to the point will it change me?”
Is that what you would have thought if you had been there to hear Jesus’ teaching?
Love your enemies is a powerful statement and not one that goes down easily. In the Old Testament if someone wronged someone else and caused them hurt there was a system of retributive justice -that is they were paid back like for like. See Exodus 21:23-24. Therefore if someone was a victim of a crime they could have their revenge on the perpetrator. In some ways this can still been seen in the justice system today when a judge passes sentence on someone who is found guilty of a crime, although today there is a system of restorative justice in place – one that seeks to help the offender too.
Jesus goes beyond the law and teaches that people should love their enemies and pray for them. Hating those who hate us or who do wrong to us seems to be a state that people naturally fall into if hurt, threatened or abused. Sometimes there can be a justifiable reason for hating someone, however Jesus is saying that if we choose not to hate and to pray for people who wrong us then there is the potential for change. The offender may change through being shown mercy and forgiveness, a healing process can start in the person who chooses to forgive and others may also change the way they live as a result.
Jesus says that if a person really wants to shame someone who does wrong to them not to respond like for like. “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” Matthew 5 39-41.
Jesus is NOT saying that you should put up with mistreatment or allow yourself to be abused but rather that if your enemy tries to mistreat or offend you, you will show them up by offering more generosity yourself and not behaving the same way. You can read more about one Christian’s response to persecution here.
Jesus knew what it meant to be hated himself but through loving those who wronged him, used it to change lives. Read more about a man called Saul (Paul) an enemy of the early Christians whose life was radically changed after a strange encounter on the road to Damascus and the actions of a man named Ananias.