In Junior High School I got into an argument with a friend about capital punishment. Naturally, even then, I was on the right side of this issue and opposed it. At age 14 I was ill equipped for a biblical argument from my friend, who said, “the Bible says, ‘an eye for an eye.’” Indeed, he was right, I checked and that’s indeed what the Bible says. In the Old Testament, it says it three times. In Exodus 21.24, Leviticus 24.20, and Deuteronomy 19.21, there is something along the lines of the law of retaliation.
Three or four years later, after attending a Church service where I heard what Jesus had to say I went back to my friend and, wagging my finger I said, “but Jesus said, ‘You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I tell you, love your enemies.” My friend had no idea what I was talking about and I didn’t bother to remind him of our earlier debate. (I was satisfied with the victory.)
A quote, believed to be authentic, is attributed to Mohandas K. Gandhi, “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” which fits wonderfully with the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The suggestion to love our enemies causes one to reflect on the whole notion of enemies and friends. An enemy is a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something. Jesus is speaking to a people who are living in a land that is occupied by foreign forces, but the recommendation to love our enemies suits all situations.
I think Jesus knew that the first step in truly loving an enemy is to stop viewing them as an enemy, but as someone worthy of love. Eventually, the transformation takes hold in our hearts so that it has a chance to take hold in the hearts of our enemies. Already God loves our enemies by showering rain (and love) on them as God does on us.