I hate you. Three words that we do not expect to hear from a Christian and certainly not from the pulpit. This is why we use other words to cover them up. Because it doesn’t sound good. And it’s not a good look for those who would profess to be in relationship with the God of love.
So, we say, “I don’t hate anyone. I just dislike them strongly, wish I had never met them and would be glad if I never saw them again. No, I don’t hate anyone; I just can’t be in the same room with them, have to bite my tongue when they come around, can’t think of one nice thing to say about them. I don’t hate anyone. Still, I won’t miss them when they’re gone, won’t sing a sad song because I am better off without them, wish they were never born and won’t shed a tear when they die.
But, I wouldn’t say I hate them—because that is such a strong word.
Actually, hate is defined as “a passionate dislike” and is a common occurrence in our vocabulary. So, we may not hate the person, but we hate their guts. So intense is the dislike that we hate the very sight of them. For some relationships, there is a balance of devotion and hatred, described as a love- hate relationship.
And there are those we feel justified to hate. It is a hatred that is long- standing and well- founded, well- grounded in points that have led us to this place. There are hatreds we love and people we love to hate. Villain and hero, they are in every story. Strangely, we can only see ourselves riding in on a white horse. So, we imagine ourselves saving the day and thus, loved by everyone. We have no enemies.
But, even Jesus could not and would not make this claim. While on earth, persons tried to stone him and throw him off a cliff. He was run out of town on more than one occasion. While we imagine Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts, I can see doors being closed in his face more often than not. Jesus told a scribe who wanted to follow him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”[i] Homeless, the creatures were living better than the Creator.
And please don’t choose the Jesus Way if you want to be well- liked. I assure you that Jesus’ yearbook did not include him as the most popular or even class president. The Lord’s Table was not the cool kid’s table. No, our leader was the laughing stock of his community. Jesus goes home to preach and people were offended that he presumed to know more than them when he had grown up with them. Jesus says of the incident, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown and among their own kin, and in their own house.”[ii] Jesus makes it pretty clear that this was a packaged deal: “You will be hated by all because of my name.”[iii]
Like those who lived during Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time, we pretend that we would have walked with Jesus, been found alongside him. But, the truth remains, that all of the disciples left him. “No not one” was at his side or would cross the line between crowd and crucifixion. Instead, they stayed silent. Because though they hated to see a good man die, they loved their lives more.
So, they turned their backs on him and his back is torn to pieces, whipped. They hide behind closed doors as he cries out for help. We hate to hear the truth but even those disciples Jesus hand- picked would not pick up a cross to follow him. He taught them to turn the other cheek and they turned and walked away not long after Judas kissed his. All seeking to save their own skin, there are no heroes here. But, are they villains too, enemies of Christ and his cross?
If so, we don’t hate them. And why is that? Is it because we can identify with them? We can see ourselves in them? Because if the truth be told, our response would be the same, which is why we love Jesus so much. Jesus knows that they don’t know any better: “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”[iv] Jesus does not hate us, but he loves us and forgive us, his enemies.
Perhaps this is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes,
“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end, all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross, he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause, he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So, the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. (Quoting Martin Luther, he continues,) ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’.”[v]
Jesus loved his enemies from the beginning and until the very end. And he commands us to do the same: “Love your enemies.”[vi] Described as a hard saying, love is often viewed as failure. We think, “Where is the win in turning the other cheek,[vii] in suffering and forgiving, in serving someone who has wronged us?[viii] From the cross, Jesus would point to all of us. Jesus didn’t come to win a game but to win souls.
These days, it is hard to know whose side the Lord is on. Perhaps, it is because Jesus takes no sides but desires to bring everyone to his pierced and bleeding side. He died not to score political points but for our salvation. And he did not die only for those we love and who love us, but Jesus lived and led, loved and died for our enemies. For him, there was no difference.
Because in our sinful state, we were all behind enemy lines.
[i] Matthew 8.20, NRSV
[ii] Mark 6.4, NRSV
[iii] Matthew 10.22a, NRSV
[iv] Luke 23.34
[v] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
[vi] Matthew 5.44
[vii] Matthew 5.39
[viii] Romans 12.20