- Love Your Enemies
- Matthew 5:38-48
- Lyndol Loyd February 22, 2021
Cringe: Words from Jesus that Are Hard to Hear – “Love Your Enemies”
Read the Bible and you will find that Jesus made several cringe-worthy statements. By that, I mean Jesus was known for speaking words that were hard for people to be able to hear. They were hard for those who heard them when they were first spoken and they can be hard for us to read today.
The season of Lent, the 40 days not counting Sundays that lead up to the celebration of Easter, is traditionally a time for reflection and contemplation when we intentionally walk in repentance. During this time we are going to take a look at some of the hard to hear statements Jesus made. Statements like:
- You will be hated.
- You must lay down your life, take up your cross and follow me.
We are going to kick the whole series off by looking at what might possibly be the most difficult word from Jesus to hear – the statement that for many of us is the most challenging. “Love your enemies.”
How many of you have a group of people that you like to hang out with? A group of people that you enjoy spending time with? You might even go so far as to say that you love them? I think most of us have a person or persons in our lives who are easy for us to hang out with. We have similar interests. We like to do similar things. We encourage each other. We build each other up. We make each other better. It is easy for us to like each other. It is easy for us to love each other.
But Jesus isn’t content for us to merely love the people we like. Take a listen to what Jesus has to say in Matthew 5:43-48, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
That can be an incredibly difficult passage of scripture for us to swallow. If we are being completely honest I don’t know if many of us necessarily like that Jesus asks us to do that. I’m not always feeling that one. It is why people say things like, “I love them, but I don’t have to like them” or “I love them, but I don’t have to hang out with them”.
There is a story about a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. His name was Johnny Lee Cleary. He has since passed away. One day he encountered an African American preacher, Reverend Wade Watts, and it changed everything. Watts told Cleary, “You can’t do enough to me to make me hate you. I’m going to love you. I’m going to pray for you whether you like it or not.” Have you ever said anything like that to an enemy?
Cleary said that he didn’t know how to deal with that. He had never had anyone treat him that way before. They actually ended up becoming best friends. Rev. Watts ended up taking Cleary on the road with him and he began to mentor him. Let that image sink into your mind for a moment – an imperial wizard in the KKK and an African-American pastor – friends.
Cleary felt compelled to give his life to the Lord after reading Luke 15, the story of the prodigal son. Cleary would say that if a black man could love him as a klansman who had perpetuated hate toward his entire race “maybe it was time for me to change.”
He would go on to say I finally got down on my knees and said, “God, my life is screwed up. I need your help. He went on to say that he felt like a brand new person. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Cleary would go on to become an evangelist. And all of this happened all because one person decided that he was going to do something different. He was going to do something countercultural. He was going to love his enemy.
That one moment changed one man’s eternity and I’m going to guess that it changed eternity for several other people as well because of the ministry that Cleary went on to have. And all of this is directly related to the fact that Jesus calls people to PRIORITIZE RECONCILIATION OVER REVENGE.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
So what about you? Who in your life would you say is your enemy? Who is the person you might say that you love, but you are not willing to go the extra mile for? Is it a neighbor? A coworker? A family member? Maybe it is a former friend and you have thought of every excuse as to why you don’t want to do anything for them. You have written them off. If they are going to find heaven then someone else is going to have to do it for them.
What if I told you that one verse of scripture could change the entire way that you live? Would you want that verse? I hope so because here it is.
Matthew 5:41 says, “If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.” Some of you have been wondering why I’ve been carrying around this backpack. Now you know. If we would practice this one little verse if we were willing to go the extra mile with people it would change everything in our path by living this out.
Let’s look at the CONTEXT in which Jesus says this. It is found in Matthew 5:41, which is located in Matthew 5 which is the beginning of what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is speaking to a crowd of people who have gathered around him. Just before that in Matthew 4 Jesus has performed miracles. He has healed a demon possessed person. He has healed a paralytic. As a result people start to follow Jesus. They want to see what happens next.
Just before that in Matthew 5:38-40, Jesus says, “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too.”
We see Jesus do something in this scripture that we see Jesus do often. He talks about RETALIATION VS. SELF-SACRIFICE. He is trying to move people from a mindset of retaliation to a mindset of self-sacrifice.
There was a thing in Jewish culture that if you got into an argument with someone and they slapped you in the face you could legally slap them back. Now here is the problem with that. People didn’t take too well to getting slapped. As a matter of fact it would often lead to an outright fight.
Jesus comes along and says that if someone slaps you on the cheek you are supposed to offer them the other cheek as well. You can have this one too with no retaliation.
Then he talks about when someone takes you to court and sometimes you have to give them collateral so you have to take off your shirt, so he says you know what give them your coat too.
Then we make it back to v. 41 where Jesus says if a soldier asks you to carry his gear for a mile, carry it two. Remember Jesus is about reconciliation over revenge. So let’s dig in further.
During the time that Jesus would have said this, the Roman Empire was in charge. And when they would conquer territory they would come in and put up all of these mile markers outside Jewish villages and here was the law. If a Roman soldier got to a mile marker he could look at you and say, “Hey, come here. I want you to carry my pack” and you didn’t have an option.
You were basically an oppressed Jewish slave to the Roman government and you didn’t have any say in the matter. You either carried the pack or there was a consequence. So how much joy do you think they had in saying, “Sure. I’ll carry your pack”? That is the context of this teaching of Jesus.
Jesus is standing on the hillside. He’s preaching. He’s speaking to Jewish people who are slaves to the Roman government. He’s been talking about peace and salt and light. He’s been talking about marriage and murder and a whole slew of other topics and then he drops this hard-to-hear word on them in Matthew 5:41.
I imagine that people must have been surrounding Jesus and they are amazed at the teaching he has been giving to them. They are marveling at his humility, but then he says this. And I’m thinking that it is at this moment that they begin to cringe a little bit. Maybe their faces get red? Maybe they have a visceral response as their bodies tense up? Because let’s just be real here. We all know that revenge feels good at the moment.
However, we also know that revenge, in the long run, doesn’t, but revenge in the moment feels good. Jesus is trying to get to the point that revenge is just temporary, but reconciliation is eternal.
I can imagine that at least one of the persons looked at someone else in the crowd and said, “You mean to tell me that this Jewish rabbi is telling us to submit to these Roman soldiers who are dominating our lives and lording it over us? Did I hear him right? What is he thinking?”
And suddenly they start forgetting about the miracles, his eloquence, and humility because that one statement was probably one of the most disturbing and upsetting statements they could have heard.
So what did Jesus really mean in this moment? I have to tell you that I think it is pretty clear. Jesus is saying that as Christians we ought to be nicer, kinder people. We ought to go further in service and hospitality than is expected of us. We should go beyond cultural expectations and norms. We should get serious about loving people. Jesus is calling us to 2nd Mile Living.
2nd MILE LIVING
Can you imagine a young Jewish man who is out working in the heat of the day when a Roman soldier comes up to him and says, “Hey buddy, time to carry my pack.” And can you imagine the young Jewish man heard the teaching of Jesus so he responds with, “I’ve been waiting all day for you. Give me your pack. I’m glad to carry it for you.”
The Roman soldier would have thought, “What’s wrong with you?” Maybe as they are walking he asks the soldier, “Do you have a wife? Do you have kids?” The soldier can believe it. They start talking about the challenges of raising kids. Pretty soon they make it to the mile marker and the Roman soldier says, “Okay, we’re good. You can give me the pack back.”
But instead the young Jewish guy says, “No, we’re good. Let’s go another mile.” The Roman soldier is like, “You don’t have to do that. You’ve fulfilled your duty. Then you would have to walk back two miles” and he replies, “No problem. I can do it.”
And out of that, how does it shift the mindset of the Roman oppressor? Maybe all of the sudden it occurs to both of them that they aren’t that different. Suddenly it becomes clear that whoever walks the second mile ends up feeling blessed and ultimately you start to cause other people to want to know what it is that you have.
Because here’s the thing. Second-mile living is contagious. When you decide to take the pack of other people it is contagious.
Can you imagine if you started to practice second mile living with the people you work with? I’m telling you that it will be infectious. Or maybe it is in your home? What if you start to love your family the way that God calls us to love him? Maybe there is a moment for some peace in your family. Right now some of you are thinking, but Lyndol you don’t know my family. There has never been peace in my family. Maybe you’ve never tried second-mile living? One decision to walk the second mile could change your entire family.
Maybe you have a coworker you think of as the enemy. You think he or she is lazy and feel like you are always the one picking up all of the slack. Pick it up a little bit more. Love him or her more. Show what it means to live like Jesus.
Jesus goes even further. Here is how Jesus finishes. We’ve already read it once, but it is probably a good idea for us to give it a second look. Matthew 5:43-48, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven…”
Now just think about that for a minute. Are you kidding me Jesus? Those who want to kill me. Those who want to take me out. Those who are not for me. You want me to pray for them? And Jesus is like, “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.”
…For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
Do you think Jesus is making a point? Do you think he is trying to get at something? He is calling the people he is speaking with to a countercultural way of living. He is calling them to help people experience reconciliation, not revenge.
He isn’t calling us to take it on the chin or to be doormats, but what he is doing is calling us to love differently than the rest of the world, to love those who might not always love us.
SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
For some of us it is time to change your attitude about your coworker. For some of you it is time to walk across the street and begin to literally love your neighbor well.
And you know who I’m talking about. The one who lets his dog in your yard and never picks it up. The one who gives you the stare every time you drive down the driveway. That one.
For some of us it would be walking into the next room at your house and loving a spouse, your kids, a parent, a grandparent that you really don’t want to love, but Jesus says walk the second mile.
For some of us, it would be to walk across the isle here at the church because how can we be willing to love the world around us if we aren’t willing to love one another? We should be the ones who model reconciliation of what it means to love one another.
Right now some of you are thinking, “This sounds crazy.” I’m telling you that people who heard Jesus say it thought the same thing as well.
Jesus was instructing us to go further in serving others than anyone else ever expects of us. Not to get perks. Not to get raises. Not to get points, but to show them how Jesus loves them extravagantly.
Eventually they will have to know why you’ve been treating them the way that you have. You’ll have the perfect opportunity to tell them about Jesus and the extravagant love he has shown to you when you didn’t deserve it or earn it.
We should do this because this is how Jesus lived. He loved his enemies. He loved us. You see Jesus will never ask us to go a second mile that he himself did not go. For he walked the ultimate second mile for us when he went to the cross. He came for us while we were still sinners.
So the challenge for us is to live as Jesus lived. In 1 John 2:6 it says, “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” That is our calling. Jesus asks us to love our enemies and that is certainly a hard word for us to hear, but it is exactly what Jesus modeled in how he loves us.