PassageIn this passage, which continues Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus instructs us to love our enemies. He starts, in verses 27–31, telling us how we should love our enemies: we should do good for them, bless them, and pray for them. When they do us wrong we’re not to retaliate; quite the opposite, when they wrong us, we’re to double down with our kindness.
Then, in verses 32–36, he tells us why we’re to love our enemies: because we’re to be better than those around us. Even sinners love those who love them back, or do good for those who do good for them, or lend money to people they expect repayment from. So what good is it to just be as good as the sinners around us? Instead, as it says in verse 36 (ESV):
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
ThoughtsModern day Christians in North America—the only Christians I ever come into contact with, frankly—have a problem with this passage. On the surface I think we actually love it; we love the idea of doing something that makes us better than those around us—so that we’re not just living our lives like the “sinners” around us. But when we have an opportunity to actually live this out, we try to twist it in whatever way fits a given situation, so that we don’t have to make it apply to us.
The idea of turning the other cheek has a nice romance to it, when we’re having our quiet devotional time and reading this passage alone in our rooms, but if anyone ever actually hits us, for any reason, we’ll do our best to put that person in a hospital. If anyone even talks bad about us, we’ll fight back so fiercely that nobody would be able to tell us apart from a non-Christian.
The idea of praying for our enemies sounds great in theory, but North American Christians have such a fervent fear of Muslims right now that I think a lot of them would be in favour of wiping all Muslims off the face of the earth, right this minute. There are so many things wrong with that—not only the fact that it goes directly against this passage, but also the fact that it’s so contradictory for a Christian to fear anything or anyone—that it’s no wonder Christians have no moral authority anymore. (Maybe we never did; we’ve never been as good as we were supposed to be. That’s why Grace is required…)
And then many, many Christians just mentally skip right over verse 30 (ESV):
Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.Surely he couldn’t have meant that, could he? (He must not have lived in a city—there are beggars everywhere in a city!) Didn’t he say something about pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps or something? Actually, yes, Jesus did mean what he said here—and no, he didn’t say anything about pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. (Nothing.) (Anywhere.)
Every once in a while you’ll hear about someone actually living this passage out, and it’s shocking. I remember reading about some parents who’d lost their child to some kind of murder—I don’t remember the details—who made a habit of going to visit their child’s killer in prison. That sounds so over the top, so strange, like those people are super, hyper, mega Christians… and yet it’s simply living out this passage, exactly as Jesus had intended us to. I’m not saying what they did isn’t impressive; they’re doing the right thing, and it’s more than what most people would do. I’m putting down the rest of us for not living this passage out so well, so that when someone does it looks shocking to us.
What are we supposed to do when people mistreat us? Love them, pray for them, do good for them. “Yeah, but what if they—” No. Stop. We’re to love them, and pray for them, and do good for them. If they did something bad, leave that between them and the Lord. If they did something really bad, leave that between them and the Lord. If they did something so terrible, so awful, so egregious that you can barely even describe it, leave that between them and the Lord. And love them, and pray for them, and do good for them.
I’m not on my high horse on this one. I’m not saying I do better than others. This is probably one of the hardest passage of Scripture to adhere to. And yet… understanding it, intellectually, is really easy. We know what the right thing to do is. We’re just petty; we’re human. In this passage, Jesus is asking us to do something that, frankly, we’re not really capable of doing. But he also offers us the Holy Spirit, and the power to obey this properly, in His strength. I think that’s the key: to quote verse 36 again, we’re to “Be merciful, even as [our] Father is merciful.”