The teaching of Jesus was counter-cultural and very relevant in his day and in ours. He challenged the teaching of the religious teachers of his time. In the Sermon on the Mount he told his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? If you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
Naturally we find it easy to love our family and friends but feel no obligation to love our enemies. We feel justified in hating them. In the conflicts of today political leaders feel justified in taking retribution on their enemies. Sometimes religion plays a major role in these conflicts. Even people from the same religion fight against each other. Some national Christian churches support and encourage unjust wars. They give the impression that God is ‘on their side’.
We all have an obligation to love God and to love our neighbours. God’s whole law is summed up in two great commandments. The first commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” The second commandment is, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” One day an expert in the law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus told a story showing we can’t restrict the commandment to love our neighbour to people of our own race or religion. The hero of the story was a Samaritan man, a race of people that the people of Jesus’ day hated.
In Jesus’ story a man travelling on a lonely road was attacked by robbers who beat him and left him half deaf. Two priests of the same religion as the wounded man ‘passed by one the other side.’ Then a Samaritan came by and had pity on the man. “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” The Samaritan loved his enemy. When we love people as God has loved us in Jesus enemies become friends.