But Did Jesus Really Mean It? (John Frye)

Love Your Enemies

“To love enemies breaks through the self barrier into divine space,” writes Scot McKnight in his SGBC: Sermon on the Mount (144). We have come to the last pericope in Matthew 5: verses 43-48 titled in the NIV “Love for Enemies.”

Jesus steps into the “love your neighbor/hate your enemy” Jewish world with “a radical hermeneutical guide for proper observance of Torah: Love God and love others” (139-140); what Scot calls and has written about The Jesus Creed. Jesus is going “to reveal an Ethic from (so far) Beyond that it would boggle some in his audience.” Where exactly Jesus got “You have heard it said, …hate your enemies” is unclear, according to Scot, yet there were factions of Jews (Essenes) who hated the Kittim (the Gentiles) and some zealous Jews hated even their own compromising Jewish leaders and, for sure, the Romans.

The startling thing that Jesus does is change the definition of neighbor. “Jesus commands his followers to commit themselves to be with their enemies, which involves proximity and attentiveness, and to be the sort of person who longs for and works for the good of the enemy. Because love cannot be reduced to ‘toleration,’ working for the good of another, including one’s enemies, means striving for them to become the sort of person God wants them to be” (143). Simply, “love must be defined by how God loves.” Love, at the least, includes praying for our enemies: “pray for those who persecute you.”

Scot notes that Jesus’ ethic from far beyond caught on in the church. Jesus modeled it (Luke 23:34); Stephen followed Jesus’ example (Acts 7:60); Paul counsels it (Romans 12:14) and Peter urges his readers to follow Jesus’ example (1 Peter 3:9). Also, Polycarp both lived out (his martyrdom) and taught Jesus’ ethic from beyond (To the Philippians 12:3).

The followers of Jesus are to put on display, as Jesus did, the character of their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:9; 5:45). We are “to live in a way that reflects who God is” (144). To love only those who are like us is simply to love ourselves; a love not demonstrated by God the Father Who is good to the evil and the good, to the righteous and the unrighteous. Jesus blasts away his culture’s stereotypical categories that defined who could be loved and who couldn’t. Jesus offers a profoundly radical ethic; an ethic some still try to tone down to this day.

Different scholars have different takes on what Jesus means by “be perfect” (5:48). Scot presents a collage of different interpretations (145-46) and offers this conclusion: “The ‘perfect’ of God in this text is his love for all. Thus, Jesus is urging his followers to be ‘perfect in love’ or to ‘love completely’ in the sense that they are to love not only fellow Jewish neighbors but also enemy neighbors. Jesus urged his disciples to love all because God loves all (5:35)” (146). To Live the Story, Scot invites us to identify our enemies. Name them, him or her. We all have enemies. Admit it. Secondly ask, How am I turning my enemies into my neighbors? We are invited to help create a society marked by shalom “because the kingdom is shalom” (148). Lord, help us.

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