And Who Is My Enemy?
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,' and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
I've been thinking about this post for a while. Actually, I've been thinking about it for a long while, not this post in particular but definitely about the subject. I really started thinking about it more often once President Obama pretty much locked his party's nomination last year during which time I heard him called a terrorist, a communist, a racist, a murderer, and the Antichrist (and that was all just in emails I received). Thinking about this subject began to consume significant amounts of my time the night of the election when I sat in bed watching the results come in from across the country while simultaneously checking tweets and Facebook status updates continually. As I watched crowds of people from all walks of life in Grant Park swell with pride that manifested itself in both cheers and tears, I read comments from my friends, some of you even, from people I respect, that made me grieve.
In all the name-calling I heard thrown the President's way, rarely did I hear "Christian," and if I did, it was from political pundits analzing his campaign on CNN or MSNBC (but not Fox News) and not from any of his fellow brothers or sisters. But I don't want to talk about President Obama, not specifcially anyway. He's not what I was spending so much time thinking about (though maybe I should have). The topic that has been concerning me so much and that is the subject of this post is simply what I wrote above in the title.
And who is my enemy?
In Luke 10 (in the Bible) we've got this great scene that plays out. Some lawyer comes up to Jesus because he's sat around and figured out what he considers to be an inquiry that at the very least will test if he's worth his weight in matzah and at the very best could actually reveal him to be the Messiah. He asks Jesus what he has to do to live forever Jesus, being the sly teacher that he is, responds with his own question, basically asking the lawyer to sum up the Law he so devotedly serves.
Now, remember, we're not just talking about the big 10 here. The Mosaic Law had been expanded to include 613 different statutes with a bunch of extra rabbinical writing added on top to explain and define the 613. This was no easy task and was basically a theological minefield that consisted of one giant land mine. However, the guy gets it right. He actually gives the exact same answer that Jesus himself gives in Matthew 22 and Mark 12 when asked, "what is the greatest commandment?" So, this is no late-night-commercial ambulance-chaser. This guy's got goods, and Jesus acknowledges it.
"That's right," he says. "Do that and you'll live forever."
Now, don't forget, as smart as this guy might be, Jesus is the teacher in this situation. He's leading this guy on. He knows there's no way possible for this lawyer to actually keep those commandments. Let's forget the other 611 for a moment. Try for one day to, one hour, even, perhaps just a moment, to live fully those two laws and you'll come up short every time. The smart lawyer knows this too. So, he wants to back himself off a little bit, get himself off the hook.
He asks, "and who is my neighbor?"
Jesus answers with the story of the Good Samaritan. I won't exegete the whole parable here (there's much better people than me who have done so elsewhere). I'll just say this. His answer to this question was basically, "everyone's your neighbor, even the person you detest more than any other, the most wretched, foul, on-the-fringe human being you can conceive of, whether they can reward or return your love or not... that's your neighbor." (Those are my words, obviously... I'm paraphrasing, in a way)
I think we... we who seek the Christ, the Son of the living God, to know Him, to know His will and obey it... we who carry the Gospel of the righteousness of God and serve as His ambassadors to a lost and dying world... we who claim to know and love the Word of God, His revelation of Himself to all humankind... I think we don't often enough ask, "who is my neighbor?"
Most of us seem to be much more interested in wondering, "who is my enemy?"
Of course we're not so overt in our inquiry. In fact, the only reason we want so badly to know who our enemies are is so that we know who we're against. And as is the case who were against is directly correlated to what we're against. So, once we know what we're against we can then know what we're for. At least that's how it looks to those on the outside. This convoluted public persona we've propagated has us giving the appearance that our principles, values, convictions and beliefs are much more defined by what we don't stand for as opposed to what we do. At the very least this is a colossal image problem in dire need of a makeover. At the worst, it's an indictment on all of us (Christians, that is).
My favorite performance poet, Taylor Mali, has a piece entitled Silver-Lined Heart (you can download it on iTunes if you're interested) that's pretty much addressed to other poets, particularly those on the slam circuit, that too often distinguish themselves and make their points in a similar way to what I'm talking about. He ends this poem with following stanza.
So don’t waste my time and your curses on verses about what you are against, despise, and abhor. Tell me what inspires you, what fulfills and fires you, put your precious pen to paper and tell me what you’re for!
I don't know about you, but I'm with Taylor. I'm sick of us on TV and in our pulpits and in front of our youth groups and in our endlessly forwarded emails railing against all of "those people." Those Gays. Those Democrats. Those Republicans. Those Muslims. Those Rednecks. Those Pagans. Those baby-killing doctors. Those welfare mothers. Those gun-toting cowboys. Those Asians. Those Africans. Those Mormons. Those Catholics. Those Baptists. Those crazy Pentecostals. Those stuck-up Anglicans. Those Arabs. Those Terrorists. Those French. Most of us can barely tolerate each other (any Christian that doesn't go to our church and at least half of the ones that do) much less the rest of the people we're supposed to be introducing to Jesus.
And before you get all over my case and accuse me of being all high and mighty and exhort me to get down off my pedestal, let me be clear that, as the apostle Paul said so eloquently, I am chief amongst sinners. And so are you.
And sure there are and are going to be things worth fighting for and that require confrontation. We shouldn't be a doormat for anyone. Meek doesn't mean weak. Just ask Jesus. If you believe that as a Christian President Obama is blowing some things, then as a fellow believer you have an inherent duty to call him on it. But there is a difference between disciplining and damning. There is a difference between confrontation and combat. There is a difference being holy and being holier-than-thou. There is a difference between being righteous and just being right. There is certainly a difference between love and hate. And just in case you missed it there are differences between us and it looks to me like that's how God intended it. Turns out our Creator is pretty creative.
I'm embarrassed at the picket signs and accompanying shouts touting what some people errently believe God to hate. I'm embarrassed that the best press a religious youth event can get is when it involves a screaming match outside on the steps between two rival groups of "sinners" and "saints." I'm embarrassed when moralism replaces Godly living. I'm embarrassed about how I'm represented on television by spokesmen for my faith foaming at the mouth in righteous indignation over what they believe they've suffered at the hands of the liberal media elite. I'm embarrassed at the political environments that rule so many of our churches and ministries. I'm embarrassed... for me... for them... for you. And the closer I get to the heart of God, however small those incriments might be, the more weary, burdened and sad I get... because that's how I think He feels about it.
We Christians seem to be incapable (or at least ill-prepared) of combating the evil around us because we cannot separate that evil from people to whom we attach it. For that reason, we are in constant sin. Sure there are going to be those who persecute us, who seek our destruction, who want to alienate us and shut us up, who even kill us and who hate us. Of course there are. Remember from John 15, they hated Jesus first. But I want to be hated because I'm like Him, not because I represent Him poorly. And even when I am hated, I am never justified to respond to anyone who feels that way in the same manner. Never.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
You see, the question of "who is my enemy" is a moot point. It doesn't matter the least little bit. Why? Because anyone who's my enemy is also my neighbor, and even if they weren't, I'm to respond to them in kind. "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you..." LOVE!!! Come on!
That verse is from Luke 6, by the way. Verse 27 to be exact. Now go read the rest of the chapter and think on these things.
That's all for me right now. I've got to go repent of the hatred I felt for some of my fellow Christ-followers I felt in writing this post. Hopefully, this was part of the cleansing process for me. Maybe it will be for you too.
May the grace of God be with you... and with me.