One of the most difficult teachings of Jesus for me to follow is to love others, even my enemies. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said it this way: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:43-44).
The people of Jesus’ time weren’t too different from you or me; they generally followed the norm of reciprocity. If someone was nice to you, you felt obligated to be nice back. If someone ignored you, you ignored them. And if someone was mean to you or your family, you returned the favor, insult for insult.
Jesus flips the script on reciprocity, and commands his followers to love everyone, even their enemies. Even the people who can’t operate on the reciprocity norm. Even the ‘least of these.’ Even those people you consider ‘the other.’
But who is your ‘other?’ It’s different for all of us. In general, we probably spend most of our time engaging with people who are similar to us. Humans are ‘groupish’ so we tend to form small groups based on a shared identity or interest. It can be anxiety-provoking to venture outside of our comfort zone. But that’s exactly what Jesus calls us to do.
In one of Jesus’ clearest statements about heaven and hell, Jesus talks about how God will separate the good people from the bad. It has everything to do with loving the ‘other.’
All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (Mt 25:32-40).
Discussion: What group of people do you consider the ‘other’ or your enemy? What is one step you could take today toward loving someone from that group?