An old preacher who was known for telling his congregants about the way he thought they should live would often stop mid-sentence and say, "Now, I've stopped preaching and gone to meddling." That is the way we can picture some of Jesus' listeners during the Sermon on the Mount thinking about what Jesus is telling them in the latter portion of it found in Matthew 5. This past week's lection concerned anger, adultery, divorce, and taking oaths--all things that plague modern day Christians as much as they did Jesus' original audience. Next Sunday we conclude our four week journey through the Sermon on the Mount with Jesus' next admonitions to love your enemies and not get back at others when they have wronged you. I can just picture some of Jesus' listeners saying, "Do What?!"
The ancient world had come a long way since the days of Moses leading the people called Israel through the desert to the Promised Land. Before the Exodus, the law of the land was tribal justice which meant that if someone was offended by another, then they may raid their village and kill everyone in it for revenge. After the Exodus, when the Law was given to the Israelites, justice became equivalent---an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a cow for a cow, etc. So, an enemy would not automatically murder an entire village because he was wronged. He would just murder the person whom he blamed for the injustice or steal whatever he thought was fair to recoup a loss he thought he had suffered at the hands of another.
A couple thousand years later, Jesus is teaching on the hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee and gives a new teaching that no one would have thought would ever come along. He told them that those who are part of the Kingdom of Heaven (the poor in spirit, the merciful, those who mourn, those who yearn for righteousness) would live in a way that fits their place in the kingdom. He told them to "love your enemies". What an odd thing to say, even in today's world. Why in the world would anyone tell someone to love their enemies? After all, isn't an enemy someone that you automatically hate or at least dislike strongly? Isn't that the definition of an enemy? Exactly! Jesus' teaching was one that promoted behavior that encouraged enemies to become friends, or at least less abrasive enemies.
When I was in high school in the tenth grade, I hated tenth grade and school very much. I had subjects I knew little about but was expected to learn (such as geometry). I had subjects that did not interest me except for English which I loved. And, I had a bully who picked on me every day when I went to P.E. class. I do not know, even to this day, why this bully targeted me as the one who would bully me daily but he did not like me even though he did not know me at all. He would hit me and call me names and make my life miserable every day I went to P.E. class. Luckily, I had a coach for a teacher for that class who did not care if students went to class or not so every day I could I would ask if I could go to the library to work on other work and he would say, "Sure, go ahead" so I would go to the school library and not have P.E. class. I always got an A in the class even if I did not attend. When I did have to go to P.E. for some reason, my bully was always there to help make my life miserable during that day.
If my pastor had told me to love that enemy, I would have laughed in his face or at least later on after he said the words. When we hear the word "love" we think of romantic love or love for our family members or close friends. The Greek word used in the passage though is the one used that means to respect or imagine God's love for them. Even that definition of love is hard to apply to enemies but Jesus was trying to let his listeners know that citizens of the heavenly kingdom love in a way that earthly people cannot understand. What he told them did not make literal sense because he talked about turning a cheek so that others can hit it, giving away your cloak if someone want your coat, and walking 2 miles if someone demands you walk one mile to carry their load. All of those self-giving acts puts the oppressor in a bad light because they receive more than they demanded by force.
Loving an enemy implies wanting the best for them which is again hard to imagine if the person is truly your enemy. Wishing them the best goes against our grain because we want enemies to suffer and die if possible. At least that is the human response to having an enemy and we are all humans, even our enemies. When we try to imagine a heavenly response to an earthly dilemma, however, we attempt to see it through a lens that is like God's view of the world where everyone matters and God has love for all. God's love makes all persons to be seen as valuable, even those whom we may consider an enemy. Attempting to visualize others in a God-like way brings us from labeling another as "enemy" to accepting another even if we would really not want to try.
Going the extra mile is all about carrying a load twice as far as someone else demands. The thought reminds me of a statue that is outside the Cal Farley Boy's Ranch outside of Amarillo, Texas. It has a younger boy riding on the back of an older boy and a motto that reads, "He ain't heavy, he's my brother." A song was made with those same words. When we begin to see others as brother or sister, then the word "enemy" ceases to be one that we can use to describe them. Assisting others to become brothers and sisters is what we are about as citizens of God's Heavenly Kingdom here on earth. God help us all to have eyes that can see the worth in others even when it is the most difficult thing that we think we can do.