Read Matthew 5
I like to observe people in social situations. As I have done so I have noticed that people who like each other tend to group together, and people to don’t care for each other make noticeable attempts to avoid each other. This is not a surprising sociological pattern; it is the way it is. What is surprising is when I observe a person who purposefully seeks out people that they disagree with, not to pick a fight, but to attempt to understand how the other person thinks. It does not happen often, and there is typically an ulterior motive of some kind at work driving the engagement.
In today’s reading Jesus encourages His followers to do this providing at least one of the possible ulterior motives.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (v. 43-35)
This may be a helpful thing for those of us who choose to follow Jesus to remember as our nation moves toward a presidential election that has potential to be extremely divisive. It is one thing to be deeply committed to one’s cause, it is quite another to be willing to demonize and dehumanize any person who happens to be committed to the rival cause. At the end of the day one of the candidates will be elected to be the next president of the nation, and somehow we will all have to figure out a way to go on with our lives together in community.
As catastrophic as each side is claiming it will be if the wrong candidate is chosen, the sun will still rise and set, and the world will continue to rotate in it’s orbit. This is not to suggest that there will not be a vast difference in how each will go about governing the nation, however, I suspect that four years later we will all somehow have survived. What would be unfortunate would be if as a result of how we respond to the result of the election, relationships between people who really have much in common are severed because of how we have fought for what we each deeply believe is the right cause.
Jesus encourages us to love our enemies, which I believe goes even beyond our political opponents. It goes beyond our national boundaries. To love our enemies does not mean to allow our enemies to run over us, but it does mean to treat them as human beings whom God loves and desires to be in relationship with just as He is with us.
I have found it amazing how disarming it can be when we choose to respond to hate with love. To hate those who hate us, simply multiplies the hate! On the other hand when we respond with love toward those who hate, they very often don’t know what to do, and in most cases it causes the hate to dissolve and disappear. This is not easy to do; it can be very frightening, and often involves an element of risk. It is however, the only true solution to overcoming hate, and it is only possible when we are empowered by the Spirit of God to be a channel of His love to those who hate us.
God’s love is the only force in the universe powerful enough to overcome hatred because God is the primary source of love. We know this to be true because He has given us His word, and His word says “God IS love”. (1 John 4:8)