August 15, 2013During his ministry on earth, Jesus introduces a radical new ethic. He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . .”
Even after 2,000 years, the command hasn’t mellowed. It leaves the same sharp, bitter taste on our tongues. It’s counter intuitive; it contradicts our instincts; it violates against our sense of fairness. Love your enemies. If we respond to our enemies with love, how will justice be done? Who will take them to task?
The Apostle Paul provides the answer: God.
God will take them to task.
Paul says, do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)
To love one’s enemies is not to ignore justice; it is to ensure it. The only way we can answer hostility with love is on the conviction that God is keeping track. God says, “Because I’m keeping track, you don’t have to.”
Instead, God invites us to abandon the road of revenge for the much more difficult path of peace. One way to eliminate conflict is to obliterate all your enemies. Experience and history have taught us this approach never pays off. In the process of eliminating old enemies, you make new ones. And you can always find some enemy if you look hard enough.
Imagine what would change if you went looking for friends. What would the city look like if every stranger was a future guest, neighbor or member of the family? We always have a ready excuse for not helping: “He doesn’t deserve it. She doesn’t deserve it. They’re takers. They’re users. They’ve abused the neighborhood; they’ve abused the system. They’re the enemy.”
If God is real and the Gospel is true, then enemy is no longer a meaningful category. Settling the score is God’s job. Let God do his job, and do the job God has given you — feed the hungry, house the homeless, comfort the sick and the imprisoned.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Van Arragon is the minister at First Christian Reformed Church, 1444 Maryland, Grosse Pointe Park. For more information, visit grossepointecrc.org or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (313) 443-5445.