Dear siblings in Christ,
During worship this past Sunday, we proclaimed good news from Jesus’ famous command to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us.
There are a lot of reasons we stumble over these words from Jesus, but one reason that often goes unnoticed is that, as a predominantly white, middle-class church community, we find ourselves in a very different socio-cultural position than Jesus’ original hearers.
For the vast majority of the population of Israel that lived on the edge of starvation because of the oppression and exploitation of Rome, it was very clear that in addition to any personal enemies they may have, their collective enemy was those who perpetuated the system that kept them in constant marginalization and poverty.
In contrast, we live in the heart of the world’s dominant global empire, where systems of oppression work on our behalf behind the scenes and across the world, generally outside our awareness. Many people across the world would consider us the enemies Jesus commands them to love.
So part of learning to love our enemies in Jesus’ name is learning to have the same kind of enemies as those who find themselves marginalized and oppressed in our day.
Once we begin to move toward concrete, embodied solidarity with the oppressed, we begin to see these enemies more clearly.
- Our enemies are those who seek to use the levers of coercive power to amass grotesque wealth at the expense of the already-impoverished.
- Our enemies are those who seek to sanction the control and exploitation of Black bodies.
- Our enemies are those who scapegoat queer bodies and migrant bodies.
- Our enemies are those who seek to institutionalize the oppression of female bodies.
We can’t love our enemies unless we first acknowledge their existence as enemies, and name the ways they are acting in opposition to God’s good news.
As I said in my sermon, because of the rising wave of oppressive power we see in our culture today, I think we’re going to need a lot of creativity and courage in the coming months and years to recognize, name, and love the enemies we make in our solidarity with the marginalized.
But I do believe we can do this with joy, because of the good news that Jesus has disrupted and displaced the old systems of enmity that dominate the world by ushering in God’s empire of justice and peace. So, beloved, our fight is not really against flesh and blood enemies, but against the evil forces of fear and oppression that seek to keep us all enslaved to violence and retribution.
As it regards our enemies, our only war now is love, fought with the weapons of truth-telling, righteous living, readiness to proclaim good news, and faith in God’s promise to liberate us all from our bondage to sin and violence. Let’s get after it together.
Yours in Christ,