Of all the teachings of Jesus, this is his one unique contribution to human religious thought. There were other ancient religious teachers who told their adherents to serve the poor, to love their neighbors, and to live virtuous lives.
But, no other ancient religious or philosophical teachers ever told people to love their enemies.
This is peak Jesus. And, it’s crazy.
And, Jesus’ original followers would have thought it was insane too. I mean they had serious enemies. Enemies that were occupying their country at the time. When Jesus tells them to “love your enemies,” he was really telling them to “love the tax collector who is fleecing you,” “love the Roman soldiers who are beating you in the streets,” “love the religious leaders who are colluding with the Romans to keep you subjugated.”
This would not have gone over well.
It doesn’t even go over all that well today.
Now, what Jesus is saying here could be just simple appeasement. It could have been about going along to get along. It could be responding to your whipping with “Thank you sir, may I have another?”
But, I don’t think that’s what Jesus is actually saying. He’s NOT telling us to love what our enemy is DOING. He’s telling us to love them as people, as children of God, as brothers and sisters in God’s great family. Hating them doesn’t do anyone any good. But loving them might just change the entire equation. It might make them think about what they are doing. It will definitely preserve your own humanity.
And, it might just change the world.
Because if people actually took Jesus seriously here, that’s exactly what it would do.