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Love Your Neighbor...and Your Enemies

by Brant Pitre March 20, 2020 0 Comments


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With that said, the sixth antithesis, in a sense, flows right out of the fifth, and it proves that point, when Jesus calls on his disciples to love their enemies.  So he begins this one by saying "you have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”  Well, what is he talking about?  He's alluding there to, again, the law of Moses.  In the book of Leviticus 19:18, Moses is very explicit, he says “you shall love your neighbor.”  Sometimes people think Jesus came up with the idea of loving one's neighbor.  It’s not Jesus, it's the Jewish law of Moses, it’s the Pentateuch of the Old Testament.   So he takes that straight out of the Old Testament, but he also says “you have heard it said that you should ‘hate your enemy.’”  That is a little more difficult, because nowhere in the Old Testament is there ever a command to hate one's enemy.  It’s interesting. 

In fact, in the book of Exodus 23 and in Proverbs 25, it actually says very clearly that you should do good to your enemies.  So if your enemy’s ox falls into a pit, or something like that, you should help it out.  So the idea of doing good to your enemies is actually an Old Testament teaching as well.  So what does Jesus mean when he says “you have heard it said you should ‘hate your enemy.’”  We don't know, but most scholars think that Jesus is alluding here to the law of harem warfare, where the Israelites were commanded by Moses to completely wipe out their enemies in the holy land; like the Canaanites, the Perizzites and the Jebusites.  This is sometimes called holy war, but that is not actually what it means.  It is harem warfare, a complete destruction of all their enemies.  Sometimes people think that that's what Jesus is alluding to when he says “you've heard it was said to ‘hate your enemy.’”  I think that's probably right, but we don't know for sure. 

In any case, Jesus is going to go and give a very different law, “but I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”  So again, this is one of the passages where people say “how can I possibly love my enemy, right?  I don't feel the slightest affection for this person who stole from me, or this person who abused me, or even this person who murdered my spouse or my child.  I could never love them.  I could never feel any affection for them.”  Well it is important to remember that in the Bible, love, although it can be expressed through affection, is not defined as an emotion.  It is not defined as a feeling, although we tend to think of love as a feeling.  Love, the definition of love in the Bible, is to choose the good for another person.  It's to will the good for another.  So in other words, it is not an emotion, it's an act of the will, it’s a choice.  So in this context, what does Jesus mean when he says “you will love your enemies”?

Well he tells us, he gives us the definition in the next verse, “you shall pray for those who persecute you.”  That's it right there.  Mo matter what you feel about someone who's hurt you, if you pray for them, if you ask the Lord to bless them, if you ask God to bless them and to give good things to them, to bring about their repentance, to give them life and health, that is an act of love.  To pray for someone else is to take your precious time and use it for their benefit and for their good, and that alone is an act of love.  So it is very important for you to understand that you don’t have to feel anything toward an enemy to love your enemy.  You just have to do good to that enemy, especially by praying for them, by interceding for them and by offering penance and sacrifices for them.  And in doing so Jesus says “you'll be like God, you'll be like the Father in heaven.”  Why?  Well look at the world.  It is full of wicked people and yet what happens?  The sun comes up every day.  He makes the sun shine on the unjust and the just.

So if you have any questions like does God love sinners?  Well, did the sun come up today?  And the answers is yes.  He makes his rain fall on the the just and the unjust.  Same thing, does God love the wicked?  Does he love the violent?  Does he love the sinful?  Well, he gave the rain from heaven that gives us water to drink and food to eat.  So the answer is yes.  So what he's calling for in this final passage is for us to love our enemies just like God loves his enemies.  And when we do that we become children of God, we become sons of the Father, because we more perfectly image God's love when we love someone who hates us than when we love someone who loves us.  And that's what he is going to go on to show there, he says “even the pagans [or the Gentiles], they love people who love them.  Even tax collectors…” — notice Jesus here is like “an IRS agent is the worst possible human being you can have.  Even the tax collectors love those who love them.  That’s not the bar we’re setting here for the new law of love, for the new covenant.  We’re setting a divine bar here.  We are going to love those who hate us, even the Gentiles, even the pagans, love those who love them.  But we have to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.”

Before I move on let me say this one thing.  I was recently reading St. Catherine of Siena's dialogues and in it she says something very interesting.  She says that “the reason God created multiple human beings, the reason he gave us neighbors who he knew would harm us, hurt us, insult us and sin against us, was because he wanted us to love with the most perfect kind of love, which is to love like he loves.”  If he had just created one human being, that human being could love God, but God is perfect, he deserves our love.  He is not our enemy, he is our Creator, and he's worthy of all of our love.  But see, God doesn't just love those who are good, God loves those who are evil.  He loves his enemies.  So in order to perfect our love, St. Catherine says, “God made our neighbor so that we can love those who don't love us, so we can love those who hate us, and in that way our love would be more God-like, because God loves not just the just, he loves the unjust.”  So this is why the Saints have always said, “love of neighbor is in a certain sense the highest form of love, and it is certainly necessary for salvation, because it is God-like to love those who don't love us.”  Whereas when we love God, we love someone who does love us.


Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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