But I say to you, love your enemies …
Jesus lived in a society where the lives of non-Romans didn’t account for much. The Jews were forced to live under the puppet administration of Herod who had to answer to Roman imperial officials. Roman soldiers had the power to use and abuse the local population, almost, at will. Jews considered all Gentiles and Samaritans as less than human. In their piety, they refused to greet them, much less eat with them. This attitude only made the atmosphere in Judea even worse. A Roman who sought only to do his job and go back home was met with indifference and unkindness. Why should he make any effort to be fair and gentle when he is prejudged? At least he has imperial authority behind him. Why should a Samaritan show kindness to a people who were too high and mighty religious when they were in the same boat of Roman oppression?
With the commandment to love your enemies, Jesus raises the bar for those who seek the heavenly kingdom to live as if they are already there and not in the ways of the world. The way of the world is nothing but a vicious cycle of tit for tat, eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, and life for life; even when no blood is shed. Nothing will ever get better unless someone shows the spiritual maturity to act, speak, and think in a different light. And to be spiritually mature in a world that constantly seeks revenge is difficult. It is a small wonder that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. entitled one of his books, “Strength to Love.” It took strength to love those who actively and mentally murdered Medgar Evers, Emmett Till, and others remembered and forgotten. I am also awestruck by the example of Nelson Mandela. Knowing the horrors inflicted on himself and others on Robben Island Prison, Mandela greeted his jailers with a smile and a kind word. While there are still Travon Martin moments in this nation, who among us can say that Dr. King’s mentality and methods didn’t produce great results? All things are not perfect in South Africa. But, who can say that Mandela’s mentality and methods were a failure?
And long before these men, for the first 300 years of the church’s existence, Christians did not engage Romans with armed rebellion. Our martyred foreparents of the faith lovingly went to their deaths in torture chambers and coliseums. Seeing this loving spirit, more people were inspired by their example, became Christians and went to their deaths. More people were inspired by love in the midst of oppression, even a Roman noblewoman named Helen who was pleased that Her son, Emperor Constantine would end the persecution of Christians in 325 AD. Perhaps those first saints knew what our African foreparents would learn, “Trouble don’t last always. Weeping last through the night, But joy comes in the morning.” and the only way to embrace that joy is to embrace the commandment of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, “Love your enemies.”
Is there a practical response to the Travon Martin/George Zimmerman verdict that can be done? Here is a thought; know and work with your neighbors. Greet them at every opportunity. Get involved in community watches and talk with law enforcement about how such citizen efforts are to be done. When people are aware of one another and work with each other, we will disarm and diffuse situations before they arise. When we clearly know and agree to rules for everyone, we can stop controversies from starting and make sure the law applies to everyone. In fact, those of us on different sides of the fence will find out that we are not as different as the media and polititians want us to believe we are. And there are plenty of shameless media and political forces who are exploiting this result for profit and popularity. I would dare say that if we all took the time to, at least, talk to each other and better still, get to know each other; we would find that we have a lot more freinds and fewer enemies than we think.
Above all, let us be prayerful and loving at all times. In this world of confusion, we must offer the clarity of the Gospel with the way we act, speak, and think. If we are obedient to the commandment of the Incarnate Word who defeated death by his death, we will dwell in the kingdom of heaven and, perhaps, make the kingdom of earth a better place in the process.