There is a natural survival reflex in all of us. If we are hurt, we strike back. It’s counter-intuitive not to. I love how God always asks for the counter-intuitive from us (Matthew 5:38-48, Leviticus 19:18).
Now, when I say “enemy,” that immediately conjures up ideas of arch nemesis. An enemy is classically seen as some melodramatic super villain out to do us harm. But I’d argue that the Biblical concept of enemy goes much deeper than that. Maybe it’s not somebody you wish ill of. Maybe it’s just somebody whose very name causes you to fume and tense of. Maybe it’s not just one somebody but a group of people. People who you speak condescendingly of. People who you find yourself thinking, those dumb (fill in the blank)s.
Jesus knew all about enemies. Yes, there was the obvious ones. The religious zealots and Roman rulers that incessantly mock him and eventually nailed Him to the cross. He could have smote them. He could have brought an army of angels to show them what’s up. Instead, he forgave them, for in His own words, they knew not what they did. He loved them to the end and beyond.
Jesus also had His cultural enemies as well. Jews and Samaritans did not get along. Jews thought the Samaritans were garbage, being traitors to the faith and a generally confused and backslidden people. Jesus was a Jew. He knew exactly how a Jew should feel. Yet, when presented with the opportunity to avoid Samaria, go right around it just like everyone else, He chose to go right straight through. It saved time and gave him a chance to interact with the woman at the well (John 4), a social pariah even by Samaritan standards.
Jesus’ counter-intuitive love changed lives.
When Jesus shared his moment with the woman at the well, she ran to the people of her village, telling her story, about how He loved her though He knew all her dirt. People flocked to Jesus, for who wouldn’t want to know the kind of person who loves everyone unconditionally.
Even after His death and resurrection, Christ’s legacy of love continued. Peter turns to the people who murdered God incarnate and offers them a chance to repent (Acts 2). They flock to Christianity in droves, for Christ had met their hatred with His love. I think it’s important that Peter is the one to extend the olive branch to them, for he too betrayed Christ. He, too, was an enemy of God. So, for us, practicing agapē love towards others is simply paying forward God’s redemptive love for us.
So, the next time you feel that ill intent brewing up in your heart, give it up to God, who loved us when we were yet enemies to Him.