"Epiphany 07: Love Your Enemies" - Tim Suttle

"Epiphany 07: Love Your Enemies"

by Tim Suttle


2014.02.23 – Light Will Shine 08
Matthew 5:38-48 – Love Your Enemies.

I got to go to Israel recently: we spent some time knocking around the north side of the Sea of Galilee & a little town called Capernaum. … next picture…
Jesus grew up in Nazareth & had been down around JER in the wilderness with his cousin John.
After John got arrested by Herod & Jesus came back up to the North.
But he didn’t go home… went over to Capernaum. 
Probably to live with Peter at first… if you remember.
Peter & Andrew were brothers; they grew up in Bethsaida (Jn. 1:44) 
They moved to Capernaum because they married 2 sisters.
They started in the fishing business… here on the Sea of Galilee.
Successful: the house Peter lived in had 2 stories & ornamental tiles…

Something you don’t really think about: But, at the beginning of JS’s ministry everyone still had to worry about things like making a living.
Peter still had to work… Andrew, James & John probably got up most mornings & went out to fish.
Early, 3am, fish till dawn, take their catch into the market.
Eventually it seems, Jesus found his own place there in the town.
Mk 2:1 – “When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.”
This little town PIC, is where Jesus lived… rented a room or a house…
Remember the story where they lowered the paralyzed man through the roof of the house? 
That was at Jesus’s home in Capernaum…
They were vandalizing Jesus’s roof.

And I think the geography can teach us some things about our text for today.
Capernaum is little fishing village on the edge of the sea…
Behind it are these hills… (PIC) they were not terribly high.
They were covered with these kind of meadows, and then off behind them they led up to what they called mountains. (PIC)
Fairly substantial hills… climb them in a hour or so.
So… you’ve got Jesus living in this pretty busy town of Capernaum.
It’s on the sea, but also on the Via Maris (PIC) a road… a trade route.
It ran from Egypt North along the Mediterranean & cut over to the east right along the coast of the Sea of Galilee & went thru Capernaum.
This is probably where Jesus picked up Matthew as a disciple.
Matthew was a toll collector on the Via Maris.

Early in the morning, the fishermen would get up (I mean like 3-4 in the morning) and they’d head out in their boats to catch fish.
Jesus lived in this fishing village for much of his ministry.
We don’t have a complete understanding of it, but when you know their jobs & the history…
And especially when you see the place you can tell what he was doing.
The fishermen would start coming back after the sun came up to sell their fish at the market.
Jesus would get up, eat some food, & head out to teach…
Sometimes he sat around his house (PIC) & taught (hence lowering the guy through the roof).
He sometimes taught in the synagogue… (PIC)
On a nice day you can imagine Jesus taking a stroll up the hills (PIC) behind Capernaum, into these meadows where he’d sit & teach.
People from Capernaum & neighboring towns would come by…
It’s maybe a 10-15 minute walk from Bethsaida, Chorazin (2 PIC)
From the hillside, Jesus could see the whole Sea of Galilee, all of Capernaum, he could see Bethsaida, the Via Maris connecting it all.

People would come from all over & sit as JS did these teachings, recorded in the SOTM… scholarly opinion is that this is a rabbinic style of teaching.
He had these stories he would tell over & over.
He’d mess with the form of them & flip them around.
His disciples would’ve heard them scores of times.
He probably taught the scriptures as well.
Jesus’s teachings in the bible are flooded w/OT references.
But you can just imagine it.
People would come listen to him teaching.
When things got stressful he’d get up early w/the fishermen & he’d go way up on the mountain top to be alone… no teaching that day.
Nobody really knew he was up there.
That’s where he was when he saw his disciples struggling w/the storm & he came down & walked on the water. 

PT: This is where he did his teaching & much of his ministry. People came from all over the region to listen to him teach, to ask for healing, to catch a glimpse of this extraordinary man… & they were blown away; couldn’t get enough. 

Soon there could be 4-5000 flooding into town, hanging out on the hillside. 
And it wasn’t like a public speech like we’d have today.
He couldn’t be heard by 4000 at once on these hills.
Everyone who could would crowd around him as he taught. 
Others would be milling around or camping, making fires & cooking food, taking naps, having their own conversations.
This is the setting of the SOTM.
This is a picture of the Meadow where JS probably taught.
It wasn’t that he went there one day to give a famous sermon.
He was up there all the time, teaching, talking, telling stories, leading…

Matthew 5:38-48 38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters; what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Just a show of hands… How many of you find this easy to do?
None? Good… I’ve come to the right place.

It’s interesting, all kinds of studies have been done on this phenomenon: out of all the possible factors:
Physical attractiveness / IQ / Sense of humor /
Personality type / Standard of living / fashion sense

You know that the number one factor is that determines whether or not you will like another person
It’s whether or not you feel like… they like you.
That’s the number one factor by a huge margin.
If you feel like they like you, you will like them

Has this ever happened to you: there is somebody out there and you just never really liked that person, and then you find out they said something really nice about you & all of the sudden you are thinking, “Wow, that person is a lot sharper than I thought. This person has hidden depths!”

And of course the #1 factor that’ll cause you to dislike another person? 
If they don’t like you… & it could be anybody.
It could be Mother Teresa… and we’d be thinking: 
Mother Teresa doesn’t like me? You know I never did buy her act… what a poser.

That’s the way that we are as human beings, but God is not like that.
God just loves people
God loves people who love him & those who don’t

Not us – we really only love those who love us… 
And Jesus knew this to be the case. 
In fact, JS seems to know that our inability to love like he loves, lives at the heart of all human problems.
…especially the problem of violence.

JS says, “You’ve heart it said, an eye for an eye, & a tooth for a tooth,” which is found in several places in the Torah – the Law.
You know Moses gave these commands to people who had been slaves for 400 years.
Slaves met w/harsh violence for even smallest act of insubordination.
So, out in the wilderness, they were just imitating their captors.
& Moses was teaching a way to keep from escalating violence:
If cut off arm, ≠ kill ‘em; needed a more proportional response.
Jesus knows there is an inherent problem w/this.

There’s a famous research project where they took a group of subjects & paired them up in twos
People would receive pressure against their finger – PAIN
And then they were told to exert the same amount of pressure on the other person’s finger – SAME AMT. OF PAIN
They found that the person would ALWAYS inflict more pain than they received … every time. 
The reason is that pain felt is always more than pain received!
This is why retaliation always escalates a conflict.
It’s called the reality of escalating violence.

Loving our family, our friends, our neighbors (sometimes) comes pretty naturally to us… loving enemies? Not so much.
Enemies have inflicted pain … and we want them to feel it too.
This is the root of escalating violence.

Jesus is revealing to us that God is not like that. 
God doesn’t want to destroy or hurt his enemies.
God wants to redeem them. 
And the kicker is, that God wants to redeem them through US.
This reality lies at the heart of JS’s teaching in this passage.
So Jesus says, “You’ve heard it said, and eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, But I say if someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek, if someone sues you & takes your tunic, give your cloak, too… makes you go 1 mile, go the 2nd mile.”

Now, for centuries Christians have found loopholes; ways to get @ this text – ways to explain it away so we don’t actually have to follow.

This shows us it’s impossible to live up to God’s standard, so we’ll throw ourselves on the mercies of God (Luther).

This passage forbids self-defense, but doesn’t preclude fighting in defense of an innocent 3rd party (Augustine – Just War…)

This only applies to those who belong to a special class of Christians who are striving to be perfect (monks, priests, clergy).

This is an ideal, that’s simply not realistic; it’s what we should strive for, but come on, we live in real world – (Niebuhr)...others

These loopholes, if we’re honest are just a way of saying what everyone’s thinking: Jesus has to be wrong… he can’t really mean this.
So we look for loopholes & disclaimers…
You know violence always comes with a disclaimer, right?

PT: They started it! Can’t just let them get away with it! Some has to teach them a lesson. They started it. I’m just protecting myself… always a disclaimer.

Our temptation as we read today’s text, is to do what has so often been done w/this passage – we start making disclaimers: 
But I think the only way to read this & not mess it up is to refuse to minimize its difficulty… This is a hard teaching.
And there’s no way to make it NOT a hard teaching.
We can’t search for a loophole.
We just have to just listen to it; & let it speak to us.
Let it call our patterns into question… So what’s JS doing here?
JS says, 38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;

Let’s say a Roman general comes up to Galilee on patrol & ______ gets in his way for some reason; the Gen. yells @ you & slaps you in face.
And in JS’s scenario he specifies “on the right cheek.”
Ancient world never hit left hand (used for unclean task)
If you are hitting the right cheek w/the right hand, it’s like this:
It is the slap of an insult to an inferior… (also if not = say “beat”)
This slap puts you in your place, says you are  inferior.

Now, JS does NOT say “be slapped a 2nd time,” or, “Just take it.” Nor does he say, “return fire; eye for eye.” He says “turn the other cheek.”
So now, (TURN) they can’t give you the slap of an insult.
Your nose is in the way.
If they want to hit you again, they have to punch you.
Here’s the thing, a punch is only acceptable among equals.
A superior could actually get into some trouble for doing that…
By standing firm& turning other cheek you’ve seized the initiative.
Whatever they do from here, they’ll do as an equal…
They may go after you, but can no longer treat you as inferior.

PT: Now, turning the other cheek in our time has come to mean “Just take it.” This is a very different response JS = suggesting. This is a strong response that robs the oppressor of the power to humiliate you. It says, “Nice try. I deny you the right to humiliate me & treat me in a servile manner. I’m a human being & you will treat me as such.” It’s actually a powerful act of non-resistance.

Let’s do another one
40if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;

Most people had only 2 pieces of clothing in those days: cloak/tunic.
Jesus is saying, if someone takes you to court & you are so poor all they can get off you is your tunic?
Then just go all in… give them your cloak as well.
…  & stand there in court stark naked.
Now, in their culture, nakedness only shames the one who looks upon their nakedness & does not clothe them.

PT: So Jesus isn’t saying, if they sue you pay whatever they want and more. He’s saying if they are so unjust they sue you for the shirt of your back, just drop your pants & give them that too. Let us all see what is really going on here. 
“You want to humiliate me by taking everything I have? Then I got your humiliation for you!” 

41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.
Roman Soldiers were allowed by law to make you carry their 85-90lb. pack one mile.
The Romans actually invented mile markers / on every rd.
So if you’d pass a Roman soldier, they’d say: “Hey carry my pack.” 
You were required to turn around & carry it for 1 mile.
Then you’d retrace that mile… really 2 miles out of your way.
JS says, go an extra mile… would be 4 miles out of your way.
This actually does 2 things (his listeners wldv picked up on this)

1st thing – you’re forced to do the 1st mile because you’re inferior.
But the 2nd mile, that’s you’re choice – it steals the initiative!
… all of the sudden you are in control.

2nd thing – Soldiers could actually get in trouble for this (law was 1 mile only).
All of the sudden they are in a position of weakness.
They could get in trouble… you’ve seized the initiative.

In all 3 of these cases… Jesus is saying “Use your imagination to find a way to AMPLIFY the injustice upon yourself , let their injustice become displayed on your body…  exaggerate it in order to show everyone what’s really going on.” (which btw is exactly what he did on the cross).

You turn up the volume of what they are doing.
… dramatically exaggerating the situation…
And maybe even offer them the chance to repent.
Which is what Jesus is after.

PT: Jesus is not trying to destroy our enemies. Jesus is trying to redeem them. Jesus loves your enemy & wants them to repent & believe like you have. And he wants to use YOU to make it happen. This is how escalating violence is stopped.

One commentary I read: JS teaches a kind of moral jujitsu. Anyone?
Jujitsu is a Japanese martial art; it’s all about close combat.
It’s based on manipulating the opponents force/weight against himself – rather than confronting it w/a force, you manipulate
Ju – gentle or soft.
Jitsu – art or technique – it’s the soft art of self-defense.
It’s like in tug of war, when you let go of a rope – that’s jujitsu.
Or someone’s leaning on you, slip out of way, push them down.
Whatever force they are applying, you don’t resist it w/force.
You find a creative way to steer that force in a different direction

PT: That’s what Jesus is saying we should do here… a moral jujitsu. When people come against us with a force, we don't resist them w/an opposing force. You use the momentum of their own injustice or violence to make it clear to everyone what’s going on.
You let the reality of what they’re really doing become displayed on your body… just like Jesus did on the cross. 
So that your oppressor can see what they are doing is wrong… you offer them a chance at redemption.

Under the apartheid regime in South Africa, the authorities were trying to destroy one particular shanty-town.
…army came by surprise in the middle of the day.
Most men & women = at work somewhere – old folks & kids.
Soldiers announced had 5 minutes to clear out / bulldozers
The old women, sensing the naïveté of the young soldiers, literally stripped off all their clothes… stood naked / bulldozers
… soldiers had no idea what to do… they just fled.

PT: That’s the sort of imagination Jesus is recommending. He’s saying you can’t fight force with force & expect the violence not to escalate.  YOU have to oppose it with the kind of imaginative move that says, “This is what you are really doing! You want to strip us of everything? Here, we’ll strip down for you!”

JS=so wise here; he knows we can’t stop violence w/ violence. All that ever does is move the violence somewhere else.
…out to the edges & then we can call the center “peace”
That’s what Rome did – city of Rome was at peace (pax romana)
Every edge of the empire was at war…
If you try to fight violence w/violence all that does is move the violence elsewhere… so you can call where you’re living peace.
It never deals w/the SOURCE of the problem.
There’s that famous Martin Luther King Jr. quotation:
“Through violence you my murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate. Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Jesus is trying to get us to reach for the light… let’s keep going:
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers & sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

To love your enemies is possibly JS’s most difficult teaching & at the same time it is also the most important.
Why do we need to love our enemy? … could it be that:
Our enemy always carries the dark side of our own soul.
And until you face the dark side of your own soul you’ll never grow up? 
Because normally those people who threaten us carry our own faults in a different form.

PT: Our enemy nearly always carries our own dark side. If we hate them, we’re really hating our own darkness. We actually need our enemy… that way the problem can always be “out there” somewhere & not in here. Jesus says you’ll never grow up that way.

Colin Powell tells this story that when the Soviet Union fell he realized that they had a $500 billion arsenal, 330k troops in Germany.
Its entire reason for existing was predicated on the need to fight the Soviet Union... & then the Soviet Union fell…
Powell sat across the table from President Gorbachev & Gorbachev said to him, “General, you will have to find a new enemy,” with somewhat of a twinkle in his eye…
As if to say, “I’m sure you’ll find one soon.” And we did.

PT: Most of us need the enemy – it keeps us from having to face the truth about ourselves. If we can concentrate all the problems out there somewhere. Then we don't have to face our own issues. 

Until we learn how to love our enemies, this will be our situation. But God doesn’t hate our enemies = loves them… why he says:
“God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” 

You don’t drive by a field w/a Rich, Robust wheat crop & say, “that must be a Christian’s field.”
Then you go one & the wheat is all anemic and stunted and say, “Yeah, he’s an atheist.”
That’s not the world we live in… in the world we live in,
God just pours his blessing out on everybody (pause), and he say’s we need to be willing to do the same.

The Jesus ends this section in a very strange way. He says, “48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” …which is totally not fair.
The word Jesus uses is: teleios (tel-ay-oss)
It means “brought to its end, completion, or wholeness”

Stanley Hauerwas says it this way:
“Perfection does not mean that we are sinless or that we are free of anger or lust. Rather, to be perfect is to learn to be a part of a people who take the time to live without resorting to violence to sustain their existence.”

Now if you are like me, this is the point at which I start coming up with my own loopholes… there’s a famous one:

What if a guy breaks in & tries to kill your whole family. Then he gets distracted and puts his gun down, you could grab the gun & kill him? What do you do?
And of course the pious Christians say: 
“I would fall to my knees and pray. Because I believe I tap into more power when I pray than when I pick up a gun.” 
Which is how I know I’m not pious…
I’d probably pick up the gun and pray for good aim… right?

The problem with all this is that our temptation is always to try and pick apart the teaching with extreme examples. But they are not realistically situations that many of us are going to ever face…
The real question is:
Can you do this in your relationship with your spouse
Can you do this with your boss or co-workers?
Can you do this with the annoying people in your life?
The ones who have it out for you & make an enemy of you?
Can we even begin to love our enemies in our normal everyday life? That’s the real question… maybe we should start there.

Most theologians will tell you that the central theme of the SOTM is love. 
That’s really the heart of JS’s teaching.
… the transforming power of love.
But the first time the word love is explicitly used in the SOTM…
… is love your enemies… stunning…
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;”
He connects enemy love, to participation in the family of God.
This is how you become sons & daughters of God.
It’s like he’s saying: What family are you in?
Are you part of the family of revenge & escalating violence?
Or are you part of the family of peace that overcomes hatred?

The biblical test for whether or not you love God has always been whether or not you love your neighbor:
Jesus says: the new test for whether or not you love your neighbor is whether or not you love your enemy.
You can’t love God whom you cannot see…
Unless you love that person over there, who bears the image of God, whom you can see.



1. Loving one’s enemy sounds like a brilliant strategy for building a better world until it requires us to actually love someone who opposes us or offends us – by their behavior toward us, their behavior toward others, or because of a different position they hold on political or moral issues (among other things).  If you could ask God what He sees, who would He name that you most need to love? What would He ask you to do for them?  How willing are you to try?

2. The motivation for resisting an evil person could range from self-preservation to pride.  The motivation for non-resistance could perhaps range from pride to humility, or from mockery/sarcasm to love.  In addition to prayer (verse 44), what are other actions we may take to show love in non-resistance?  (See possible parallels in Luke 6:27-36; Romans 12:14-21; Philippians 2:3-8.)

3.  Regarding loving our enemy, are we supposed to love people who presumably hate and want to kill Christians or want to kill Americans?  Is there ever a legitimate reason for war?

4. Although usually not overtly, how do our attitudes toward others (and maybe sometimes even our actions) perpetuate the chain of violence in our world today?  Who (person or group) do we need to "love and pray for" to break that chain in our lives?