When I was in fourth grade, I had a nemesis. Let’s call her Samantha.
Samantha was popular, pretty, rich, and bossy. Her golden locks were always pulled into a bouncy ponytail on the side of her head and topped with an elaborate bow. She wore name-brand clothes, used name-brand school supplies, and came from a name-brand family. As the teacher’s pet, Samantha would put in a good word for the classmates she liked while tattling on the classmates she didn’t like.
She didn’t like me.
So whenever my Sunday school teacher explained that Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for those that persecuted us, I thought of Samantha and prayed for her.
It seems silly now, but back then I was absolutely convinced that Samantha was my enemy.
I thought about this last night while reading Gregory Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation—a surprisingly inspirational and challenging book. Writes Boyd:
While people in the kingdom of the world usually do good to those who do good to them, followers of Jesus are called to do good even to those who harm them (Luke 6:34-35). When struck on the check, we are to offer up the other (Luke 6:29). When asked by an oppressive Roman guard to carry his equipment one mile, we are to offer to carry it two (Matthew 5:41). Understood in their original context, these teachings do not tell us to allow people to abuse us, as though we are to love our enemies but not ourselves. To the contrary, Jesus is giving us a way by which we can keep from being defined by those who act unjustly toward us. When we respond to violence with violence, whether it be physical, verbal, or attitudinal, we legitimize the violence of our enemy and sink to his level. When we instead respond unexpectedly—offering our other cheek and going a second mile—we reveal, even as we expose the injustice of his actions, that our nemesis doesn’t have the power to define us by those actions. (p. 39-40)
So far, Boyd’s book has been a profound reminder to me of how the kingdom of heaven should stand in direct contrast to the kingdoms of the world, as followers of Christ choose servanthood over power, healing over violence, giving over taking. Just thinking about how dramatically such a grassroots kingdom could transform the world has once again restored my faith in the radical message of Jesus. It’s been a convicting read.
As I thought about how to apply these teachings practically, a lot of strategies came to mind—putting the needs of others before my own, buying less and giving more, humbling myself when engaged in political or theological debates, embracing rather than complaining about those “one-way relationships,” praying for others more sincerely, saying “yes” a little more often, working on that ubiquitous sense of entitlement and pride that keeps me from going the extra mile.
But when I considered how to love my enemies, I sorta drew a blank. In light of the genuinely brutal persecution faced by the first followers of Jesus and by the early church, anyone I might consider an enemy seemed little more than a grown up version of Samantha.
Sure, I’m not a fan of Calvinism…but are Calvinists my enemies? Certainly not. What about Al Qaeda or the Taliban? I suppose that technically they are my enemies, but it’s not like I interact with them on a regular basis. How am I supposed to love them?
I feel remarkably blessed to be faced with little more than petty arguments and silly resentments in my life…especially in a world of so much injustice. So how do I love my “enemies” when, by the grace of God or good luck or a little of both, I don’t really have any? And in light of this fact, shouldn’t it be easier for me to love the Samanthas in my life?
Who are your “enemies”? How do you love them? How do you "keep from being defined by those who act unjustly" toward you or those you love?
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