‘Love your enemies’ was not an optional commandment from Jesus

Published: June 10, 2006

By Sister Rosalie Ruesewald, OSB

Love of enemy. Whatever happened to it? Imagine what this world would look like today if all Christians took seriously Jesus’ command and example of unconditional love for enemy as well as for friend. It is stated as a command, not an option: “I give you a new commandment. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples …” (John 13:34-35; Luke 6:27; Matthew 5:43) If followed, approximately one third of the world’s population would refuse to kill anyone, would reject violence. Jesus, himself a victim of brutal torture, died forgiving and praying for his enemies. As Christians, we promise to follow the nonviolent way of Jesus, to take on his perspective. We have the Eucharist to shape and form us in his way of all inclusive love, transforming each of us to be another Christ in the world. “Do this in memory of me” means so much more than the mere repetition of a 2,000 year-old ritual. The new commandment to “love as I have loved you” is a clear and direct mandate. So were the words to Peter: “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) And so it was for the first 300 years of the Church. Soldiers laid down their arms and uniforms when they chose to follow Christ. Being a Christian and a member of the military was a contradiction. This was clear to Marcellus, a Roman military officer. In 298, he threw down his belt and arms at a banquet in honor of the emperor’s birthday, and declared it was not right for one who serves Christ to serve in the armies of the world. He was condemned to death by the sword. However, since Constantine’s time, when the Church became legal, there has been an adaptation to the culture, even to the point of formulating the Just War Theory. Though they are in the minority, there are Christians responding to Jesus’ call to be peacemakers. Every Church A Peace Church (ECAPC) is a movement committed to the principle that killing or dominating others is incompatible with love. It is made up of the traditional peace churches, the Mennonites, Quakers and Church of the Brethren. The very name ECAPC opens the discussion and gives Christians a place to discuss the call for the Church to peace making. Kidnapped in Iraq earlier this year along with three others from the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT), Jim Loney said, “With the waging of war, we will not comply. With the help of God’s grace, we will struggle for justice. With God’s abiding kindness, we will love even our enemies.” CPT members commit themselves to combat violence by “getting in the way.” Loving one’s enemies is radical. The challenge is great because it is so counter-cultural. Jesus’ message is clear and simple, but it is not easy, nor is it an option. The June feast days of the Body and Blood of Christ and the Sacred Heart of Jesus both focus our attention once again on the all-inclusive love of Jesus and his radical and ever timely challenge to us, his followers. The core message of the nonviolent Gospel has not changed. Sister Rosalie Ruesewald, OSB, a member of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, has worked as a teacher, campus minister, formation director and peace activist.