These are anxious times. There are many legitimate reasons to be concerned about the future of our families and our communities yet these concerns hardly warrant the degree of anxiety we feel. Something else is going on. One aspect of our anxiety is that we Americans are so politically and religiously divided. Polls show that many of us think we’re headed in the wrong direction and long for political change.
Our anxieties are constantly fed by the media. Major TV networks play on our emotions and this gets us hooked into watching their programs. News people pour on the drama as they report the latest election results, some outrageous, attention grabbing thing a politician said, or a horrible event like the recent mass shooting in Orlando. As they’re talking the split TV screen recycles the disturbing images over and over again.
Talk radio spews so much shock, lies, and hate. People on both sides of the political and religious divide post things on social media that are blatantly partisan and just plain ugly. It’s as though we live in silos of like-minded people beset by all those supposed enemies out there. I’ve been resisting getting a Twitter account because it ratchets up the intensity with a constant feed of belligerent and demeaning hashtags.
This puts a whole new twist on Jesus’ commandment to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Jesus begins by instructing us to never retaliate in kind. That’s radically counter-cultural because retaliation and a thirst for revenge are hardwired into our national culture. We need enemies. On a personal level, if you’re mean to me, I’ll be mean to you. As the familiar saying goes, “I don’t get angry, I get even!”
It’s not only about getting even. Instead, the threat is that I can do much worse to you. The Law of Moses sought to set strict limits on such retaliation by proscribing an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Payback cannot be greater than the harm that was done to you. Even so, it eventually leaves us all blind and toothless. We need a more deep-seated response that goes beyond tit-for-tat and gets to the root of the problem.
Jesus’ radical response is wrapped up in his command, “Do not resist an evildoer.” The Greek verb translated as “resist” is used most often in a military context where it refers to “armed resistance.” Jesus goes beyond that by telling us to never pay back in kind—not even a person with evil intentions who has treated me very badly. Just because you did it first, doesn’t make it right for me. Isn’t that what we tell our children when they get into fights? If I respond in kind, I’ll become just as bad because such stuff is contagious.
Loving enemies is the very nature of God who treats all people impartially no matter how good or evil they may be. The sun shines and the rain falls on all of us. Our God is love! If we, in turn, play favorites by being especially generous and loving to those who support us and nasty and vengeful to those who are against us, we’re no different from those we despise and consider to be our enemies.