You have heard it that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: love your enemies! Pray for people who persecute you! That way, you’ll be children of your faither in heaven! After all, he makes his sun to rise on bad and good alike, and sends rain upon both the upright and on the unjust.Yeshua/Jesus of Nazareth, ca 30 CE in Galilee, northern Israel, cited in The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verses 43-45 as translated in The Kingdom New Testament, trans. by N.T. Wright.
(Slide credit – Etsy)
In the statement above, Yeshua/Jesus transforms the normal human understanding of relating to friends and enemies. In another teaching in The Gospel of Luke chapter 10, he explains whom he means by “neighbor”; he declares that everyone becomes my “neighbor” in times of crisis and need, not just those I am related to by blood, affinity, and proximity. (See The Gospel of Luke, chapter 10 in the parable of Good Samaritan.)
In a teaching parallel to the one cited in our opening quote Yeshua pushes the “pray for people who persecute you” command even further:
“… love your enemies! Do good to people who hate you! Bless people who curse you! Pray for those who treat you badly! If someone hits you on the cheek—offer him the other one! If someone takes away your coat—don’t stop him taking your shirt! Give to everyone who asks you, and don’t ask for things back when people have taken them. Whatever you want people to do to you, do that to them. If you love [only] those who love you, what credit is that to you? Think about it, even sinners love people who love them. Or again, if you do good only to people who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Sinners do that too.”Luke 6:27b-33
These are among the best known but most difficult of Jesus’ sayings to put into practice. Even great “saints” find them very hard and sometimes fail to do them, let alone hot zealots who revel in fulminating about God’s doom hanging over sinners to strike down those who mock God and despise Christ, Christians, and Christianity. After all, loving and blessing (which implies demonstrating what you say) an enemy or opponent is much harder than damning them to perdition and walking away from them.
Hot zeal for God’s judgment to fall on sinners can be a shield protecting the zealot from actually having to practice the harder things such as agape-love (agape being the Greek word used for love in all of these citations) which Jesus is talking about. As pointed out in Cold Love, 1, Jesus is talking about the highest form of love (agape) which governs all others. It is this kind of love which we need to live by, and this can only happen in constant relationship with its giver – Yahweh-Adonai, the Creator and Author of all that is.
Let us recall that Yeshua said that it was precisely this kind of love which would become increasingly scarcer as the times grow darker and we approach the Great Finale. It is one of the sure signs of what is called in the New Testament Greek text the Parousia, loosely translated as “the Royal Appearing” – the “Second Coming” in modern-day popular theological jargon.
The Parousia was a term used in the First Century Roman World to refer to the arrival of the Emperor, or perhaps a King, being heralded as a Savior, a Redeemer. There was a protocol for this as the Ruler approached the city he was coming to grace with his august (as in Caesar Augustus, First Emperor of Rome) presence. There was a great procession modelled after the Roman Triumph – the great and magnificent Victory Parade awarded to Rome’s greatest commanders and heroes after a major campaign had been completed with resounding success. Hundreds of thousands would turn out in their best robes, and the whole thing was carefully choreographed to display the full splendor and glory of the Victor. All the spoils of this latest enemy-obliterating campaign would be on display, with treasures aplenty, plundered statues of the new conquest’s gods, goddesses, and great rulers to show that Rome’s gods were greater, and the general or Emperor (who might also be the general – the Latin word for Emperor is “Imperator”, which, until Augustus had meant “Supreme Commander”, a military title) splendidly robed in a golden chariot – hordes of newly-minted war-captives-cum-slaves, the victorious legions, or at least one of them as representative, and, at the end, the most distinguished captives, who would be ceremonially executed by strangulation before the Emperor and Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the Supreme Roman Deity, whose son the Emperor was tacitly proclaimed to be.
The Christian idea of Christ’s final triumph bears some relationship to this picture, just as does the Apostle Paul’s statement that only the Holy Spirit could bring someone to declare “Jesus is Lord”. To say this in any public way in such a culture could well mean death. That statement meant that Caesar, whose Parousia all must acclaim whenever he went on tour in each great center he visited, was ultimately not Lord (Dominus in Latin). With Jesus, there was one higher than any earthly ruler.
But the Kingdom of Jesus was “not of this world” – it was a Kingdom built on agape, and its citizens were/are all equal, regardless of sex, race or ethnicity, and social class or status. In that alternative Kingdom, an Emperor/Empress is no higher than a slave, a man is not higher than a woman, black-, brown-, yellow-, red-hued, and white humans are all equal. This was not intended to be mere pious rhetorical flourish, but reality in practice and effect. But the only way this could and can ever be a reality is by, through, and within the living presence of agape in each of the Kingdom citizens’ hearts and minds, and practiced day by day.
It is no wonder that, for the Roman state, this movement, which began to grow with alarming rapidity in the eastern half of the empire and then found its insidious way west across North Africa and into Europe, became more and more the target of suspicion, then growing concern, and finally outright persecution.
How attractive and compelling such a faith quickly became to the downtrodden and oppressed! It was, and is, a complete alternative worldview and lifestyle to that of that ancient world, and indeed to our own culture and society, if truly lived. Eventually, numbers of the jaded and sated ruling classes and wielders of power and influence could not help but begin to wonder and look at this powerful spiritual and metaphysical force themselves, and some of their own number began giving themselves to this alternate “Lord” named Jesus.
It was said of those first generations of Christian disciples that it was their agape that was “turning the world upside down”. It was said of them that they blessed their persecutors, and prayed for the rulers who sought to destroy them. It was said that they knew how to die even as well as they knew how to live. It was said that inexplicable wonders sometimes accompanied the declaration of their euangelion – Good News – another word borrowed from the Roman Imperium with its message of the beneficent rule of the “Imperatores” – Emperors.
Cold love was not the hallmark of that age within the people then called Christians.
Let us bear that in mind as, next time, we examine what Jesus therefore meant when he said cold love would be a sure mark of the nearing of his Parousia.
TO BE CONTINUED