Previously I shared my thoughts, based on Jesus’ teaching, about valuing people over property and personal rights, and I talked about the Father’s loving attitude toward all of us even though we are broken and hurt each other.
Yet, even if we embrace Jesus’ teaching here, we must wrestle with how to value others in varying scenarios because there is no clear standard to observe.
Jesus did not give us a rule but a principle, and none of us can determine for another how to apply it to real life. I can only raise questions and share some of my responses. I hope you will share your responses also.
Loving Our Enemies Isn’t Natural
In Luke chapter 6, Jesus told his followers:
Love your enemies
Do good to those who hate you
Bless those who curse you
Pray for those who mistreat you
For many of us this is not our natural response. Instead, we may want to hate our enemies, do bad things to those who hate us, curse those who curse us, and pray for revenge against those who mistreat us. We see people through our eyes of self-interest instead of the eyes of the Father and perhaps agree with the ancient Lysias who ‘considered it ordained that one should harm one’s enemies and serve one’s friends.’
Jesus also said:
If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.
What about Bullies?
Readers commented that some believers use this passage to keep people in abusive relationships. I’m sure we all know this is true. But should we continue forever to let abusers hit us or take our belongings? I don’t think so. Forcing someone to accept abuse is itself abusive.
Valuing abusers and seeking their good does not mean we must volunteer to be their victims. This is not seeking their good but feeding their brokenness. We should love them, do good to them, bless them, and pray for them—outside their reach if possible.
School bullies, abusive family members, and sexual harassers should all be reported to proper authorities and dealt with. No one should tolerate repeated abuse. I don’t think Jesus says we should not escape; he says not to retaliate with hate.
What about Crime?
Should we simply forgive all criminals and let them continue in their crimes? No society can survive if criminals are not controlled. Government at all levels is responsible for the safety of its citizens, and I think we have the responsibility as citizens to support the justice system as long as it is just. We should report serious crimes such as assault, rape, and murder. We should cooperate with the law against predatory theft and property violations.
But what if the system isn’t just? If a hungry person steals an apple from us, should we prosecute to make an example of them? If a homeless person sleeps in a doorway or on a park bench, should we call the police? If certain groups are profiled and incarcerated for minor offenses while other groups are largely free to do the very same things, are we to remain silent and be complicit in the injustice?
I think the answer is No.
How do Jesus’ words impact your understanding of proper punishment for crimes? It is a sad occasion when a criminal is killed in action, but it sometimes cannot be avoided. However, if one is tried and found guilty, is there a limit to the extent of punishment? I don’t think the death penalty is ever a way to treat those who hurt us. It is not justice; it is revenge. Yet some Christians are among the most vocal in advocating it.
What about Politics?
Politics is a way to take care of the business of an organized society and avoid violent confrontation among people of differing opinions. I vote and pay taxes, and I sometimes discuss political issues with friends and family. But many people are so intent on their political opinions that those who disagree become enemies.
This can be particularly bad when believers try to use politics to dictate ‘Christian values’ to society. Much of the ‘Christian’ politics I hear sounds a lot like hate. Is politics a free-for-all? Disparagement, personal attacks, defamation, and mocking don’t appear to me to line up with the spirit of Jesus’ admonition for us to love our enemies and seek their good.
The same trends occur in private politics—businesses, clubs and societies, and even in churches and denominations. I don’t have a blanket answer, but I think all believers must consider the words of Jesus to love our enemies. We can’t just say his teachings don’t apply.
None of these are easy issues, but if we take these words of Jesus seriously we must incorporate them into our responses to those who oppose us. Perhaps the stickiest issue of all is loving our enemies in the context of war. We will talk about that next time.
What is your opinion on these issues?
Graphic Credit: Diego Grez via Wikimedia Commons
I invite your comments and observations below.
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