I was reading a book about the parables the other day, and a statement by the author struck me – not because I didn’t know it, but because I realized that it had ceased to be revolutionary for me: “Only Jesus insists on loving the enemy … He may be the only person in antiquity to have given this instruction.” The author is a Jewish New Testament scholar, and perhaps it was the fact that she isn’t a Christian that made the truth of her statement sink in a little more deeply.
Our post-Christian culture forgets, amidst the shouts of Love Wins and the calls for “tolerance,” that Christianity is to thank for the idea that we are supposed to love everyone. Our post-Christian culture has also forgotten what that loving truly entails. Perhaps it’s because we Christians have also forgotten both of those things.
Love is the Cross. It is not a love that allows everyone to do whatever they want, but a call to repentance and then a willingness to suffer and die for the unrepentant. It is a cry of the Beloved who wants His love returned, but submits to the blows of a love rejected.
We have forgotten how to love and we have forgotten how to dialogue. We have gotten very good at shouting and very bad at listening.
Friendships like the one shared between G. K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw are markedly absent in today’s climate. The two men disagreed about politics, religion, and pretty much everything under the sun. But after their fiery debates, they shared dinner together. Why? Not because they didn’t believe what they said on the debate stage. Not because they didn’t think the other person was wrong. But because they were friends. They didn’t approve of each other’s views and they didn’t mince words to show this. But they also recognized the goodness in each other. “Mr. Shaw is a living in a comparatively Pagan world,” Chesterton once said. “He is something of a pagan himself and like many other pagans, he is a very fine man.” They respected each other. Indeed, they loved each other. Friendship and love do not mean condoning faults and ignoring sins, but to see each other as men made in the image and likeness of God.
We have lost the ability to talk to people as if they were people and not ideologies. We want to put everyone in nice tidy boxes with labels and assumptions. As a result, we have not only lost our ability to understand the other, we have lost our ability to love them.
People like to point out that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, and it’s usually in a context where they want to try to tell themselves that Jesus didn’t care about sin or morality (ignoring his constant call to repentance and to “go and sin no more”). We can’t forget that He also ate with the scribes and the Pharisees. Rather than putting people in boxes marked “liberal” and “conservative” and rejecting one or the other (or both), he sought people out as people made in His image, and He loved them. This love meant calling them out when he saw them sinning, unafraid to make judgments on their actions, and always calling them to leave their sin behind and come to friendship with Him. But sometimes it also simply meant sharing a meal with them.
I don’t know how we will ever convert the world if we’re not willing to eat with them.
When we hear the words of the Gospel this Sunday, let us attempt to hear them fresh, as if for the first time. What Christ is calling us to is radical love. It is easy to love those who love us. It’s easy to call out sinners for their sin. But in this era of divisiveness and bitterness, are we truly answering the call of Christ? It’s not just about Jews accepting Samaritans, or even Christ forgiving those who killed him. It’s about us sharing dinner with someone who voted for a different presidential candidate. It’s about us doing a good deed for someone regardless of their sexual preference or their views on our religion.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. It’s not a trite saying to be painted on wood and hung in our kitchen. It’s a radical call that would change civilization… and should continue to do so today.