In a section from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:38-41, Jesus says this:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
Here it is again from Luke 6:27-36:
27 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
There are at least two things that are difficult for us moderns about this teaching. First, it requires me to ask myself, “who is my enemy?” To even ask yourself the question feels like a violation of some kind. We shouldn’t have enemies! We should love everybody! But we think that because we’re stupid. Jesus’ entire teaching here depends on our ability to make distinctions and to be able to identify who our enemies are.
So who are my enemies? I’ve been thinking about this in light of the social upheaval going on all around me. Are my enemies the marxists who live in CHAP? The liberal arts professors who teach at Indiana University? Church leaders who desperately want to be applauded by the culture, and therefore despise Christians who believe the Bible? What about the thief who comes to my house? Surely he’s my enemy, right? What about the guy in my church who makes life difficult for me? Or what about the family member who despises me? Is he my enemy?
It may not be politically correct to notice it, but here’s my observation: I’m white, Christian, male and heterosexual. It is clear to me that many in this country hate me and wish that I would just die. Surely such people should be considered my enemies.
Once we’ve thought about who are enemies are, we can then go on to the question of what it means to actually apply Jesus’ teaching here. It popped out at me this morning that the passage from Matthew 5 doesn’t even use the word “enemy” actually: “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
Don’t resist and evil person? Are you serious? How does that comport in any way with gun-toting, conservative American Christianity? Am I really supposed to acquiesce to the demands of an evil person in order to obey this teaching?
If you say “no”, then show me how, practically, to obey this teaching.