"You have heard it said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of God, who causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust." Matthew 5:43-45
These words are groundbreaking, a game changer. It's like the opening scene in "2001: A Space Odyssey" when the ape-men discover that a stick can be used as a tool and weapon. Life turns in a completely different direction.
The social evolution of humans gets a major push from Jesus. The tool he showed us how to use is a revolutionary approach to our enemies: love.
He said the only effective way to deal with enemies is to pray for them. Not that they may be corrected or defeated, but that they may be surrounded on all sides by love, especially God's overwhelming love, which changes everything from the inside out.
External coercion gives only temporary results. If you fight your enemy, either with force or hate, you make them stronger and more entrenched. Even if you win a battle, they or their allies will come back with reinforcements, and you will have more and bigger enemies.
You may even end up resorting to their tactics. A victor, by definition, always has enemies. It's an exhausting, precarious situation to be in.
And who are our enemies? You name it: people with different ideas and beliefs, people we're at war with, people who've hurt us, the people closest to us, frenemies, and relatives.
Yes, Jesus' words are that radical. When we hate our enemies, we continue the pattern of war and conflict--international and personal--that has characterized much of history. The only true way to "undermine" people who hate and curse us is to bless and do good for them. Immediately they cease to be your enemy.
The payoff of loving our enemies is huge: we change, our enemies change. Peace and reconciliation can happen. The lesson of Easter is dying to the old self and resurrecting as a new person, a new creation in Christ. Lent looks forward to this sweeping change.
This idea of loving our enemies is markedly divine because it's not something societies and governments tend to come up with on their own. We're not quite there yet as a species, as the daily news attests. But it's something to aspire to.
Though 2,000 years old, the Matthew verses read like a message to humankind from a more advanced civilization: "This is what you need to evolve into. Living like this will change everything on earth. This is the future."
When we pray for those who wrong us, we transform ourselves and become clearer channels for God's power, through which we can promote peace with justice in the world.
The I/you division ends. This is how we all become children of God, who sends sunshine and rain on everyone--good and bad, just and unjust.