Jesus told the crowds that the poor were fortunate and the rich were not. It was about the way people relate to possessions and how people treat people. Jesus introduces an extreme set of relationships to make his point:
But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Love Your Enemies
He begins with a series of statements about how we should respond to those who hurt us:
- Love your enemies
- Do good to those who hate you
- Bless those who curse you
- Pray for those who mistreat you.
This might indicate various types of adversaries.
Jesus had already said:
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Keep in mind that Jesus was building a group of followers to focus on him and his message as a guide to life, and this was contrary to the religious and political expectations of his time and place. He rejected much of the tradition of his society, and people often respond badly toward those who challenge tradition.
So how should believers react when people respond to us this way? Jesus says love them, do good to them, bless them, and pray for them. This is consistent with Jesus’ overriding principles of behavior: love God and love others as ourselves.
When it Gets Personal
General marginalization and ostracization is bad enough, but what about when it gets personal? Jesus continues:
If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.
This is the first example listed here to round out what Jesus is talking about. ‘Slaps on the cheek’ is more understandable to us as ‘hits you in the jaw’. What response does this personal assault usually produce? We hit back! If we don’t, we are wimps. We can’t overlook such an insult.
But Jesus says No—and there is no basis for the occasional comment: I will turn my cheek once, but if they hit me again they will be sorry.
Property vs. People
If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.
Jesus speaks about those who take our property against our will, but it is not clear to me whether this addresses the entire range from religious persecution to criminal action. Among other things, it could involve a person stealing from us, someone winning against us in court, or perhaps a powerful figure exploiting us.
In any case, we have a strong tendency to protect our person and assets from anyone who threatens them. I think Jesus says No. Others are as important as we are and certainly more important than property. The principle to love others as ourselves has no place for valuing property over people, and I think these comments of Jesus are very relevant to our attitudes toward both property and people in any situation.
Jesus’ admonition to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, even when they assault us or take our stuff, flies against every impulse we have. Loving enemies is not the spontaneous love we have for our friends, family, or romantic interest. It is love that comes from the will; it does not come naturally.
But it is not a law to follow just because it is a law. The key is to understand how much the Father loves us despite our brokenness and faults, and then to realize he loves all other people the same way. When we see others through the eyes of the Father, we can indeed love them and seek their good.
I Have My Rights!
A few years ago my wife and I came home and surprised a burglar. Our TV was setting in our doorway to be loaded, and he was collecting other items. As he came out of the house to escape, my wife was on the phone to 911 giving his description and tag number, while I tried to block him from getting to his car.
It was quite a drama. He escaped but was picked up later that evening; we pressed charges and he was found guilty.
Several friends and neighbors said they wished they had been there to shoot him for us. What?! Shoot someone for a TV?
Yet I heard a 911 call on the news not long afterward. A man reported someone stealing a TV from a neighbor’s house. The caller complained that he was getting away and said he would stop him. 911 told him not to do that, but then we heard a gunshot.
The man returned to the phone. ‘I stopped him,’ he said. ‘He’s dead.’ I learned the man was not prosecuted for killing the thief—for a TV. Some argue that the TV is not the point; it is our right to defend ourselves and our property against trespassers or anyone who threatens us. But this is exactly the point—people are more important than protecting our personal rights and property. Jesus still rejects tradition.
There is more to unpack from Jesus’ words about those who hurt us. What about bullying? What about crime? What about politics? What about war? The discussion continues next time.
I invite your comments and observations below.
If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful, please sign up for updates in the column to the right (email, RSS, Facebook, or Twitter) so that you don’t miss future posts.
Also consider sharing this post using the buttons below. Have a great day! ~Tim