“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).
We have come to a unique point in history, a point that the mothers and fathers of the faith who have gone before us could never have foreseen. Modernity has succeeded in convincing people of the possibility of a Christianity without enemies. As a matter of fact, many modern Christians believe that they have done their job only if they can live in such a way so as to avoid making enemies.
But I would argue that the fact that it is impossible to live the Christian life correctly without making any enemies. In fact, if you are a Christian and you haven’t made any enemies, maybe you’re not doing it right. Why do I say that? Because Christians struggle against the powers and principalities. The very existence of a people who serve the Prince of Peace in a world defined by its ability to wage war puts us automatically in the cross-hairs of those who have a vested interest in promulgating war as a way of achieving peace. The fact that Christians are a people who are trained over a lifetime in how to say “No” puts us at odds with a culture concerned to teach us only to say “Yes.” We stand, by the very fact of our baptism, over against a world that will bow down to any god that comes down the pike.
Not having enemies is not an option for those who follow Jesus. A cursory reading of the Gospels indicates that Jesus assumes his followers will have enemies—not because we are bad, or mean, or inherently disagreeable folks—but because of the very simple fact that we are his disciples; and he walked before us down the winding road to Calvary. The powers have arrayed themselves against him. Jesus lays it out quite simply in John=s Gospel, “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).
The question for Jesus, then, is not if we’re going to have enemies because of our attachment to him, but, rather, what kind of enemies will we have, and how will we treat those who have set themselves against God?
Elijah, with the prophets of Baal, showed us how they used to do it in the “good ‘ol days.” He had the false prophets killed (1 Kings 18:40). We, who have been trained by the crucified Jesus how to respond to our enemies, know a better way. We no longer kill our enemies as a way of remaining faithful to the God who demands faithfulness. But we don’t tolerate our enemies either—because tolerating them indicates that we do not take them seriously, that we think them beyond the power of Jesus’ love, that we think their lives cannot be transformed by the grace presented to us in the one who surrendered himself into the hands of his enemies.
No. We love our enemies. We bless those who persecute us. And we can do all that because we live by the faith that the love available to us through Jesus Christ is stronger than the hate of our enemies. For we know what our enemies cannot know—that our lives belong to the one who gave his life over to his enemies so that in the end all enemies might be reconciled through him. And that show of love, that walk down the winding road to Calvary, was the greatest act of intolerance the world has ever known.