“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
- Matthew 5:43-45
Nearly 65 years ago this November, a preacher rose to the pulpit in Montgomery and delivered a sermon he had given many times over.
The preacher was sick that day. So sick his doctor had asked him to stay home and stay in bed. But he wouldn’t hear it. He had a job to do, sickness be damned.
So, through a strained voice, the preacher proceeded to deliver the day’s everlasting message: love your enemies.
The preacher began by saying Jesus’ command to "love your enemies" was no fanciful or utopian ideal but a practical and difficult necessity of a moral life lived in love.
It’s easy to love one’s friends, sure, but to love one’s enemies? Such is a radical break from history’s violent cycle of eye for an eye.
“Jesus wasn’t playing,” said the preacher.
He then followed up with a practical question, asking, “How do you go about loving your enemies?”
The answer he gave, in part, was threefold:
“In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self...begin with yourself. There might be something within you that arouses the tragic hate response in the other individual.”
“A second thing that an individual must do in seeking to love his enemy is to discover the element of good in his enemy, and every time you begin to hate that person and think of hating that person, realize that there is some good there and look at those good points which will over-balance the bad points.”
“When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it…When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”
The preacher then gave three reasons for why you should love your enemies:
“I think the first reason that we should love our enemies, and I think this was at the very center of Jesus’ thinking, is this: that hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends.”
“…because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates. You just begin hating somebody, and you will begin to do irrational things. You can’t see straight when you hate. You can’t walk straight when you hate. You can’t stand upright. Your vision is distorted.”
“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption.”
If you would like to listen to the entire sermon, you can do so here.
And if you haven’t already guessed the obvious, this Montgomery preacher’s name was Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I often revisit this particular sermon when I feel sick from overexposure to too much politics. The daily news’ myriad petty political hatreds and rituals of scapegoating can indeed be nauseating and depression-inducing. In each successive election cycle, the propaganda pandemic seems to be more and more infectious, more and more lethal. Maybe I’m just getting older, less immune and worn down by it all. Maybe things are actually getting worse. Whether the entropy is within or without, well, I don’t exactly know.
The political battles will continue, of course, for this election season and the next and the next. Some contests will be won, some lost along the way. Some will be glorious even in defeat, while others will be bitter in victory. But such competitions can only solve so much. When it comes to our fights for power here on earth, I suspect the wheel of history left to twist on its own device would just keep on turning round and round without end or resolution — a pointless struggle of all against all where sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down.
That’s why whenever hatred of the enemy beckons to become my muse, I try to remember the tyrant in you is the tyrant in me.
That’s why whenever I feel swift to vengeance and overcome by contempt, I try to remember one’s greatest enemy can often be the face in the mirror.
That’s why whenever I hear the drums of war shake the earth below my feet, I try to remember that liberty can only blossom in the soil of redemptive love.
That’s why, when all endeavors seem in vain only to return to dust, I try to trick myself into believing that men can break the wheel of time and ascend to something more — graced by a love that may not be of this earth but can be found here all the same.
Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 9 am-12 noon. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email email@example.com.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com.
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