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The Table Video

Jeannine Brown& Wyndy Corbin Reuschling

Enemy Love: Mapping the Terrain

Professor of New Testament, Bethel Seminary
June 9, 2017

Insight on the complexities as well as the practical outworkings of the difficult but central command of loving our enemies.


One place that I’d really like to probe and press is the call to enemy love. Matthew 5, we have this hard teaching, you might say, of Jesus to love your enemy and pray for the one that persecutes you. How do we make sense of that in such, really in some cases, very dire circumstances for people who are severely wronged, severely harmed. Maybe in a societal context where there already is the concept of there’s oppression. The power dynamic has not tilted in their favor. What do we make of this particular teaching?

Yes, well the question of what does love mean in that context is such an important one. It has high stakes, so it’s relatively easy to say Jesus said that. What does that kind of love mean? How does that even redefine terrain? My daughter said to me once, “Mom, if Jesus called us to love our enemies, doesn’t that kind of make them not our enemies anymore?” I think the language shifting, or the sense of being really clear on what our language is. If we define someone as an enemy, and I think in our context it feels like we’re really ready to define lots of people as enemies or political discourse

Evan: Political opposition, moral opposition. Boundaries and actual states of minds.

I’m not sure we should impose all of that we call everyone our enemy in that first century context on Matthew’s Jesus. How do we name those in our lives we have real opposition with, or there’s very great difference with? Or there’s fear related to it because we just don’t know the other very well.

Often, a way that boundaries get drawn really strongly is because we’re fearful of the other. We don’t know what they’re going to do to us. Maybe I’ll let you jump in here, that kind of sense of naming. Even naming his enemy can be problematic if we simply want to name almost everyone outside of our little group as enemies.

The language thing, I struggle with the enemy language. I mean I struggled with it, it is hard. You have this context of Jesus’ teaching and then Jesus’s own example and this, what seems to me, to be this assumption in Scripture that we’re enemies of God. That we are also identified as enemies.

So I was thinking Jeannine, when you were talking about this idea of naming, when people use the large things like enemy, I find this to my ‘spicions arouse when I hear suffering. There seems to be degrees and cause that we need to be very particular about. Somebody who annoys me is not my enemy, and yet, I think in our context, any kind of inconvenience cause to myself. Somebody’s against me; therefore, they are my enemy. Which again dilutes what an enemy actually is.

We dilute love and we dilute enemies [speaking over each other].

The sobering thing for me thinking about the enemy love is it’s easy to be uni-directional and immediately think that “Well who are my enemies?” Without giving much pause to thinking who counts me as an enemy.

I don’t know Evan, maybe in response to your question about the context of oppression and the ways in which certain people benefit from a set of social arrangements. In many ways, I could be identified as an enemy because of sets of privileges that I have that actually diminish the well-being. Maybe not intentionally. Isn’t this the challenge of a global market? Not intentionally, but my purchasing practices, my consumption practices can be harmful.

Evan: Yeah.

But I would not see myself as an enemy but maybe others do. For me, that’s kind of a sobering place to start isn’t it? Think on whose list would my name appear?

Or your category.

That’s right. What kind of forbearance, what kind of mercy, what kind of forgiveness is extended to me in even in ways I don’t understand.