This teaching of Jesus to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” is the most difficult teaching to put into practice. The world is an imperfect place. Read, watch, listen to the newscasts every day, and you discover that sin and evil seem to be winning; and love, justice and peace are losing.
Are we to take Jesus’s words here literally? Of course Jesus did, by setting the perfect example of praying for the forgiveness of those who crucified him. Stephen also prayed for the forgiveness of those who stoned him. Others have also taken Jesus literally, including Corrie Ten-Boom, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Then there is also the thought-provoking quotation attributed to the Rev. Martin Niemoeller, concentration camp prisoner: “It took me a long time to understand that God is not the enemy of my enemies. God is not even the enemy of God’s enemies.”
So, in short, love conquers all. The antithesis teaching of Jesus to love one’s enemies is a sign of the in-breaking of God’s realm.
Yet, many of us still have some rather “thorny” questions regarding Jesus’s teachings in this gospel pericope. For example, what about a husband who abuses his wife? Does she love her husband by allowing him to continuously strike her on both cheeks, and other parts of her body? By allowing her husband to beat her up, is she giving him the message that his abuse is acceptable? What about a minus thirty below zero winter and allowing a thief to take your coat and giving the thief your shirt as well? Is this what Jesus really would want us to do? I don’t think so! By a wife turning the other cheek to a violent husband; does that succeed in preventing the husband from being violent? By giving a thief your coat and shirt on a minus thirty below zero winter’s day; does that prevent the thief from being a thief or give them further encouragement to continue to be a thief? The person who gives their coat and shirt away on such a winter’s day may very well freeze to death!
What Jesus is getting at, I think, is that extravagant love, love that exceeds “normal” tit-for-tat expectations has the power to change the world, and break the evil cycles of hatred and violence. In a perfect world, of course, this antithesis teaching would not be necessary, since everyone would love perfectly without it having to be commanded, and, of course, there would be no more enemies, no more wars, no more violence, no more hatred and evil, no more need for laws, police, judges, jails, and so on. Sounds like what we pray for in the Lord’s prayer, doesn’t it? “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.”