Love your Enemy?
August 3, 2021
by Barry Fike
Love your enemy- (Lev. 19:18) this was considered to be the “great summary of the Torah,” both according to the Rabbinic view and also according to Jesus himself (Matt. 22:34-38). It is very probable that this verse which teaches love for one’s neighbor was understood as summarizing the second part of the Decalogue.
It also goes on to prove the point that you can overwhelm the sinner by a human approach. You can make him better. This idea is fully developed in a book which originates with semi-Essene circles known as the Testament of the Patriarchs, especially in the Testament of Benjamin. “If anyone does violence to a pious man, he repents, for the pious man is merciful to his reveler, and holds his peace. And if anyone betrays a righteous man, the righteous man prays; though for a little while he is humbled, yet not long after he appears more glorious, as was Joseph my brother” (Test. Benj. 5:4f). By the undivided love toward the righteous and toward the sinners, the pious man overwhelms the evil in the sinner: “For the good man has not a dark eye; for he shows mercy to all men, even though they be sinners. And though they devise with evil intent concerning him, by doing good he overcomes evil, being shielded by God” (Test. Benj. 4:2f).
According to the Testament of Benjamin you have to be undivided in your all-embracing love toward all, righteous and sinners; in this you will be different from the works of Belial, because they “are twofold, and there is no singleness in them.” A similar idea is expressed by Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:44-48).
Those who listened to Jesus’ preaching of love might well have been moved by it. Many in those days thought in a similar way. Nonetheless, in the clear purity of his love they must have detected something very special. Jesus did not accept all that was thought and taught in the Judaism of his time. Although not really a Pharisee himself, he was closest to the Pharisees of the school of Hillel who preached love, and he led the way further to unconditional love - even of one’s enemies and of sinners. The esteemed one who demonstrates to his or her neighbor is not based upon what a neighbor has done to earn or merit love. God like love is for everyone, friend and enemy alike. Divine love is more powerful than human hate. Esteem for others mends the world. Jesus valued other people by word and deed whether they were considered friends or enemies. He taught his disciples to love their enemies. Love demonstrates its force in action. To love one’s enemy is to fulfill God’s will. This is how one must translate the commandment from Lev. 19:18, “Love even your enemy as yourself”!
In order to understand the meaning of the term “neighbor,” first one must learn to behave like a neighbor. One must assume the position of someone in need. Each follower of Jesus must do something for an individual in need. What would we want someone to do for us, if we had the misfortune of being in a difficult position? To know what the word “neighbor” means, one must be a neighbor.
Hate your enemy- As far as we know this expression does not occur in the Old Testament or in Rabbinic Judaism. The idea is found at Qumran. The people of Qumran had withdrawn to the wilderness to await the end of the age. They were the “sons of light,” equipping themselves through intense discipline, rituals of purity, and scriptural study to overcome their enemy, the “sons of darkness.” The Manual of Discipline (1-9-11) reads: “to love all the sons of light, each according to his lot in the Council of God, and to hate all the sons of darkness, each according to his guilt in the vengeance of God.”
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus thus refutes this concept of vengeance - which at the very least was sectarian belief in his day - and emphasizes the need to pay back good for evil. Here he’s talking about friends, just those who are of your friends and disregarding those that are not of your intimate social circle of friends. He says, I say unto you that you’re supposed to love all of those that are part of the kingdom. Even those who may speak evil of you and may say bad things about you, who may use you and do despiteful things to you.
This is further evidenced in the parable of the good Samaritan where the neighbor is not the man in need of life-giving assistance but the enemy. If one assumes the position of one in need is it possible to recognize that a neighbor is actually the enemy? When a person is in need of life-saving assistance, even an enemy who behaves like a friend is welcome. One discovers reciprocity in Jesus’ definition of neighbor. The enemy becomes the neighbor in the story. The Samaritan, who is viewed as an enemy, teaches what is meant by the word neighbor because he acted like a neighbor to someone who needed help. If you just love those that are your friends, what are you doing any more than what the publicans are doing?