Enemy Love: A Lent Reflection

by Neal Foster

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you."
-Matthew 5:43-44

Who's "your enemy"? Well, the worst people I can think of are those who harm innocents - that is, people who don't "deserve it." This includes terrorists and military forces that target civilians or, even worse, women and children. This also includes persecutors, or those who harm others solely because of differing religious beliefs.

Surely the worst persecutors were those who tortured and executed Jesus. And of course we know Jesus' attitude toward his enemies, the ultimate "badguys."

Jesus forgave and loved because he was faithful to the principles of the kingdom of God. He did this not just to accomplish our salvation but to show us what it looks like to walk the path in this world that ultimately leads to eternal life. He shows us that the means to the peace of God are the ends. In other words, there is no way to attain the peace of Jesus other than by having his attitude and following his example, loving all people and practicing non-aggression and non-retaliation.

Of course, this turns out to be impossible, because the urge to self-justify and retaliate is too strong - at least without the Holy Spirit in us. But the spirit of Jesus is available to us, because we are the ones Jesus forgives on the cross. Jesus identifies with all victims, both us and those we hurt.

The power of the Gospel is love, poured out on the cross. Jesus shows the miracle-working power of God's posture toward enemies: rather than kill them, God gives His life in order to save them, even allowing badguys to kill him. And biblically speaking, because we all have sinned, "them" is us.

God's response to our sin is to die in order to erase it. The response of God's kingdom is to love and bless the enemy unto his salvation, though it may (temporarily) cost all we have. I say "temporarily" because we as Christians know that God wins. Resurrection will undo all evil and wrong, ultimately validating the power of love. Because of the work of Jesus, we are eternally optimistic.

Please join me in reflecting:

What's one thing I can do this week to imitate Jesus' attitude toward me, proactively and creatively loving and blessing all kinds of people - even my enemies?