Love My Enemies?
In his famous “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7), Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and to not resist an evil person. While Jesus is certainly calling us to a high standard in human relationships, we wonder about how literal to take his words of instruction. It sounds almost as if Jesus is encouraging us to become silent victims of abuse. Are we supposed to become a doormat and let people walk all over us? Are there any situations where it might be appropriate to set reasonable boundaries so that dysfunctional people cannot harm us or harm those we love? Isn’t there a difference between being kind and being weak?
We should remember that Jesus sometimes uses hyperbole when he teaches us. Hyperbole is a literary style that involves making an extreme statement, perhaps exaggerating, in order to foster reflection and deeper thought. When Jesus uses hyperbole he intends for us to take him seriously, but not necessarily literally. Jesus is not encouraging us to endure physical abuse or to have no reasonable boundaries regarding how other people treat us. Jesus is reminding us that in our everyday relationships with ordinary people, sometimes we will be slighted, disrespected, and perhaps not appreciated. We need to choose to be bigger people and resist the natural desire to retaliate. Listen to the sermon, “Turn the Other Cheek and Love My Enemies?”
There are two basic rules of human relationships. One is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The other is the Reciprocity Rule: Do unto others as they have done unto you. Jesus is pointing out that the problem with the Reciprocity Rule (“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”) is that we are always looking to even the score and pay someone back for any slight or harm they might have done to us, intentional or otherwise. It is better to live by the Golden Rule as much as possible, because the goal of our lives is to be instruments of God’s grace and goodness in a broken world.
Jesus is not saying we can’t defend ourselves when we are truly in danger. He is saying that it’s better not to respond to a jerk by being a jerk yourself. This is similar to the wisdom many of us have heard growing up: “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Human relationships are going to be a challenge because we are imperfect people. But living by the Golden Rule puts us in a better position to have a positive influence upon others, and that is always the goal for our lives.
Pastor Mark Miller