Love your enemies

The pagan world of early Christianity was shocked to see men and women cheerfully and without bitterness going to their deaths for their faith in Jesus.

Early Christian martyrs gave late antiquity a bad conscience, (Benedict Viviano, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary). People could not understand the lack of concern the martyrs showed for their own lives. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 and following) Jesus lays out his teaching and it is here that these words occur. He went on, if you love those who love you what right have you to any credit?

Jesus words wrench the reader or the hearer into a new world; They can no longer rest in a safe group which is us and all the others are them. Jesus is constantly urging us to beak down the barriers between people, to cross over to see the other persons point of view while there is still time. We could say that the whole Christian story, reaching back to our Jewish roots, is about stepping out of our laager into the risky world of other people.

Abraham set out for a country that was an inheritance given to him and his descendents and he set out without knowing where he was going, (Hebrews 11:8). I find these words beautiful and at the same time terrifying. They convey a promise but also a risk. Who is content to set out without knowing the outcome?

Many groups are reflecting on reconciliation in Zimbabwe today. There are many meetings and there is even a ministry devoted to it. Yet we have to be careful that we do not waste our energy simply going round and round in words. While we can be grateful that there is a move towards reconciliation there is little sign that all the parties concerned really want it.

It is a tough process as the South Africans know too well. In Rwanda, I think I am right in saying, they do not yet talk of truth and reconciliation. It is still too painful so they fudge it by talking instead of the less threatening truth and unity. They gloss over, for now, what unity will entail.

Love your enemies is a simple and familiar invitation. But what it really means is being prepared to move out of fixed positions, secure boundaries and even an accepted shared identity into an uncertain future, an unknown world, a place where I might have to develop a new identity. One thing is sure. Jesus did not use these words lightly. He knew he was laying out the way for human beings to overcome their differences, their hostility to one another and to build something new, something undreamt of, for the future.

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