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Love Your Enemies

The Transforming Power of Love

Love Your Enemies
Monday, November 9, 2020

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say unto you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. —Matthew 5:43–45

In the United States few public figures have spoken more plainly and powerfully about Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies than the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This was not an abstract theological question for Dr. King. He wrestled practically and at great cost with how to love his enemies, both through prayer and through nonviolent direct action. This passage is an excerpt from King’s sermon “Loving Your Enemies.”

When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. . . .

Probably no admonition of Jesus has been more difficult to follow than the command to “love your enemies.” Some people have sincerely felt that its actual practice is not possible. It is easy, they say, to love those who love you, but how can one love those who openly and insidiously seek to defeat you? . . .

This command of Jesus challenges us with new urgency. Upheaval after upheaval has reminded us that modern humanity is traveling along a road called hate, in a journey that will bring us to destruction. . . . Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world. Jesus is not an impractical idealist: he is the practical realist.

I am certain that Jesus understood the difficulty inherent in the act of loving one’s enemy. He never joined the ranks of those who talk glibly about the easiness of the moral life. He realized that every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total surrender to God. So when Jesus said “Love your enemy,” he was not unmindful of its stringent qualities. Yet he meant every word of it. Our responsibility as Christians is to discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives. . . .

When Jesus bids us to love our enemies, he is speaking of neither eros [romantic love] nor philia [reciprocal love of friends]; he is speaking of agape, understanding and creative, redemptive goodwill for all people. Only by following this way and responding with this type of love are we able to be children of our Father who is in Heaven.

Richard again: This is a timely reminder to Christians around the world. We must ask ourselves “What would it mean to seek to embody love as ‘creative, redemptive goodwill’ on behalf of all living things?”

Reference:
Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, foreword by Coretta Scott King (Beacon Press: 1963, 1981), xi, 43–44, 47. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

Image credit: Woman and Child (Silence) (detail), Jean-Francois Millet, 1855, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: This faith, this love, this Holy Mystery—of which we are only a small part—can only be awakened and absorbed by the silent gaze of prayer. —Richard Rohr
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