Guest Article – Love your enemies

Jesus’ understanding of what kind of God God is and what God expects of us was radically out of harmony with people’s religious and secular consciousness at the time of His birth, as it is two thousand years after His birth. In his seminal work on the subject of the Jewishness of Jesus entitled, Jesus of Nazareth (1921), the famous Hebrew Biblical scholar Joseph Klausner, writes,

“There was yet another element in Jesus’ idea of God, which Judaism could not accept. Jesus tells his disciples to love their enemies, as well as their friends since their Father in heaven makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends his rain upon the righteous and the ungodly…With this Jesus introduces something new into the idea of God…But his teaching has not proved possible. Therefore he left the course of ordinary life untouched, wicked, cruel, pagan and his exalted ethical idea has been relegated to a book, or at most becomes a possession of monastics and recluses who live apart from the paths of ordinary life…As a sole and self-sufficient national code of teaching Judaism could by no means agree with it…and such has been the case with Christianity from the time of Constantine to this present day.

Pharisaic Judaism was too mature; its purpose too fixed to change. Its leaders were fighting for their national existence and grappling with foreign oppressors and with semi-foreigners that sought to crush it, and with a decadent idolatry that sought to absorb it. In such days of stress and affliction they were themselves far removed and would remove also their fellow Jews from the dangerous fantasies [of Jesus], an extremism which most of the race could not endure. They saw at the outset what the end would be of following Jesus. How could Judaism accede to such an ethical ideal?”

John Meier, Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame and a Catholic priest has spent more than twenty-five years writing five volumes on the Jesus of the Gospel, titled A Marginal Jew. Each volume carries the Imprimatur of the Catholic Church, meaning it is free from doctrinal error. Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale, and renowned religious and secular literary critic speaks of John Meier as doing “the finest scholarly work on Jesus at this time.”  In Volume IV, Meier spends twenty- three pages of text and ten pages of footnotes on Jesus command, “Love your enemies.”

He writes,

“’Love your enemies” is a brutal, brief direct command. It is a counterintuitive command. But, Jesus is not so foolish as to command emotions. He is rather commanding his disciples to will good and to do good to their enemies no matter how the disciples may feel about them, and no matter whether the enemies remain enemies despite the goodness shown them. [Emphasis in the original] The laconic and disturbing command, ‘Love your enemies,’ finds no exact iteration in the Old Testament or Qumran, or intertestamental literature prior to A.D. 70, or even in literature that is especially relevant to this topic, namely, pagan philosophical works. By ‘exact iteration’ I mean that no parallel, however, close in thought or spirit, uses the terse, stark juxtaposition of the ever-popular direct imperative ‘love’ with the impossible object ‘enemies.’  Nowhere though in the huge amount of material that ancient parallels provide us do we find the terse, direct disturbing command, ‘Love your enemies.’ The troubling content is embodied in a troubling formulation, all the more forceful for its brevity and originality. This command goes back to Jesus.”

As a final and hopefully helpful pastoral thought, concerning which all of us should be very clear, “Love you enemies” as spoken by Jesus in the Gospels is never presented as a suggestion or as an invitation, or as a counsel which the Christian is free to follow unless he or she or their institutional Church can come up with a better idea on how to respond to enemies. It is always a command from the Word of God Incarnate, containing not a hint that there are situations or contexts that can override it and make it for a time an inoperable truth in a Christian’s life or a Church’s life.



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