Friday, March 18, 2016

Guest Author Ken Tatum!

Who Is My Enemy?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.    Matthew 5:43-45a (NIV).

In what we usually call the Sermon on the Mount Jesus frequently upended traditional thoughts on moral actions, thoughts and perspectives.  In the passage just quoted He went to an extreme of which I doubt anyone in His audience would have even dreamed.  Many, if not most, in His Jewish audience would have known of the Old Testament command found in Leviticus (19:18) to “love your neighbor”.  And I suspect many would have just assumed that the “hate your enemy” part of this “traditional” statement was also Biblical.  We now know, of course, that it is not a quote from Scripture, but rather simply the natural human extrapolation to what we might want the Old Testament command to be.  So we modern Christians breathe a sigh of relief and say “Of course we are to love our neighbors and of course we should love our enemies.”  But do we ever go the next step in our thought processes and ask the hard question: who does Jesus really mean by these categories of neighbor and enemy?

One expert in the Mosaic Law did ask the first half of this question.  In Luke 10 we read about an encounter with Jesus where he asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.  In addition to the command to love the Lord your God with all your being Jesus also quoted the Leviticus passage of loving your neighbor.  The man then asked Jesus the obvious question, “Who is my neighbor?”  In response Jesus shared the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, presumably to show the man who his neighbor was.

As He finished His story Jesus asked the law expert a reverse question.  Obviously Jesus wanted to find out if the man had truly understood and ‘gotten’ the point!  So He asked the man if he now knew who his neighbor was.  Correct?  No, Jesus’ question was not worded in the expected form.  Instead He asked who “acted as” a neighbor, and not “who is” your neighbor.  Why would Jesus not answer the man in a simple and straightforward manner?

I believe He was trying to change the man’s thought process from defining everyone else as a specific type of person to determining what type of person he himself was.  Which matters more?  Who some individual is to me, or who I am to that individual?  What category I place a person in, or how I treat the person?  I cannot change that other individual, but I can change my attitudes and actions toward that person.  So, for me, the important point is how I live and act.  Am I a neighbor?

But that is only half of the pertinent question.  Just as Jesus said to love your neighbor, He also said to love your enemy.  So is it not also important to ask who is my enemy?  How might Jesus answer that question?  I won’t presume to guess what parable He might tell to illustrate His meaning, but I can guess how He might word His question back to us at the end of the story.  Would He ask “Who then was the enemy of the main character?”  Or would He ask “Who acted as an enemy to others?”
The first question would fit within our natural human impulses to put people into nice, neat categories.  But if Jesus discouraged us from placing people into a neighbor category, would He not do the same regarding enemies?  I believe, more likely, that He would want us to ask ourselves “Toward whom are we acting as an enemy?”  “Who are we an enemy to?”

As with the neighbor question the important detail is not the status of someone else, but rather the status of our own thoughts and actions.  How am I treating another individual?  Am I loving them, being compassionate for their hurts, and caring for their deep concerns?  Or am I actively hating them?  Disparaging them?  Saying all manner of evil against them?  Pushing them into ghettos and slums of their native lands?

These days we hear a lot of talk from people who claim the name of Christ about the United States having many enemies.  They name specific nations, people groups, or individuals.  I will not speculate on whether any of these really are enemies.  But Jesus said that if we really are children of God the Father, we are to love them anyway.   And if love is actually a verb rather than a noun, then our love needs to be active.  Calling them derogatory names and telling them to stay away is the opposite of love.  In fact, Jesus directly addressed such things earlier in the Sermon, relating the command to not murder to anger and name-calling (Matt. 5:21-22).

In short, the question to ask ourselves is “Do we truly want to be children of the Father?”  If so, we must love.  Actively.  Everyone.  Is there a risk to doing this?  Absolutely!  But I believe Jesus himself took the ultimate risk when He died for us.  Dare we, His children, not imitate our Lord?


  1. Ken, long time no see! I loved reading your insightful discussion about our possibilities to LOVE (I use LOVE in all-caps herein to mean unconditional love - "agape" in the Greek) which Jesus taught. I only have a few comments:

    1) I think you are so correct that Jesus was talking about how we individuals think and how we have concern for all people, including those we see as enemies. Knowing and changing our own mind is consistent with Jesus' teachings. Jesus concludes in Matt 5:48 (NIV) that his followers are to seek to "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Clearly he was talking of being perfect in LOVE for all. He would later teach that only God living in our minds by our choice can enable the type of LOVE in us that he believed. What physical creature on this earth naturally LOVEs their enemies? None, since it's a non-physical quality only imparted via an intelligent mind, which most humans do have. Although LOVE promotes a perfect way of life, it does not always promote physical survival, as do our natural instincts.

    2) Matt 5:38-48 (NIV) also gives some descriptions of those we usually include as "evil ones" or "enemies," but is not all inclusive. Jesus could have said that anyone who does not care for you could be called an enemy, or why else would they do the things described there - persecute you, slap you, sue you to take your clothing, make you go where you don't want, etc.. But it's clear that Jesus taught us to LOVE all, just as the natural physical elements of rain, sunshine, etc. come to all.

    3) It is easy to accept LOVE that is for us to receive, but so hard for us to accept that we are to LOVE others as does God. That is due to our physical nature but Jesus knew that was what it took to be in the Kingdom of God, referred to as "born again" in John 3. The difficulty in learning and accepting that is enhanced by the lack of modern translations to distinguish the various types of love referred to in the New Testament. It takes a personal discovery to read 1 John 4:8 (NIV) and believe what it actually says "Whoever does not LOVE does not know God, because God is LOVE" (my revision of large case "LOVE"). How incredible that we were never taught that LOVE is actually God himself, and yet LOVE is a noun here! Knowing and accepting that makes it so much easier to ask in all personal situations "How can I show LOVE?"
    Paul Hayes/

    1. Good to hear from you also! How are you all doing? Where are Karen and Natalie these days? I'm glad you enjoyed my musings. Sometimes God gets your attention about something and it helps me to write it down. Just glad to know it can be meaningful for someone else as well.
      Ken Tatum.