27 “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. 31 Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you. (NET)
These words of Jesus are rather convicting. At one point he said “Love your neighbor as yourself”, but here he says to love your enemy. When Jesus said “Love your Neighbor”, a teacher of the law asked: “Who is my neighbor” What if we ask the question: “Who is my enemy. What story would Jesus tell? I will tell you a story.
A man named Nathan lived near a community where everyone looked down upon his family. The whispered, about his family — for there were rumors that his grandmother was really a foreigner, and that the family business was built from theft. Nathan was a merchantman, but the suggestion was that he was not worthy to own anything, just as his grandparents were nothing, his parents were less than nothing — he also was nothing.
Nathan had business in the neighboring village, but because he knew the rumors, every time he went, a child would point and whisper — sometimes a child would speak to him directly. He knew that everything was stacked against him — Nathan knew his enemies well. As he journeyed, he braced himself knowing that it was time to face hatred and shame.
While Nathan was traveling on his way, he was filled with rage. His face became hard, and his eyes fierce, he knew that every hurt he experienced would be repeated again — why did he have to go to this village? Nathan began to daydream about burning down the mercantile instead of brining the goods — why do business with the enemy?
As Nathan was thinking these things, he saw someone laying on the side of the road. It was one of those enemies, one of those who spoke cruelty, one of those who pointed and laughed. It was a young man, beaten, stripped, bleeding and left for dead. Nathan felt his anger weaken for a moment, and instead felt compassion. Instead of seeing his own danger and pain, Nathan saw another person suffering – so, he stopped, did what he could to stop the bleeding, and packed up the man and took him to town. When Nathan arrived, he bought the man clothes and food. He made sure that he had a place to stay, and paid to make sure that someone would look after him in the long weeks of recovery. In short, this business trip was a loss — for Nathan had compassion on his enemy.
We so often think of enemies as an abstract — we think of Iranians, or Russians, or Iraqis. We think of enemies that we will never meet, so this passage does not seem to apply — how do we feed or show love to the one we never see!
I submit that Jesus told us to love our enemies, and to love our neighbors knowing that very often these are the same. The enemy is not a stranger, but someone we have a relationship with. When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to the man who asked “who is my neighbor” — the neighbor was the hated Samaritan who helped the beaten Jew when the priest and the Levite left him for dead…. The Samaritan was so hated that the teacher of the law would not even say the word Samaritan — He would not say, out loud, that the Samaritan was his neighbor. Jesus made this Samaritan an example. The Samaritan lived up to this command: “love your enemy, do good to those who hate you… treat others the same way as they would treat you.” and he told the Jewish scholar: “Go, be more like this enemy I told you about”.
Who is my enemy? How can I show love to my enemy? How can I put aside my hurt and my anger, and treat him with the same respect that I wish for myself? How can I live in peace when my enemy refuses to be peaceful? These questions fill the mind, I ask who is my enemy — and then I ask again: “but who is my neighbor.”