As New Testament believers, we often classify the words of Christ in Luke 6:27-28 as part of the group of Christ’s teachings which were radical reformations of Old Testament (OT) Law. We all too often assume that it was biblically acceptable in OT times to hate those who had wronged you. After all, wasn’t the law of the day “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth?”
But even an “eye for an eye” is in context of legal jurisdiction as demanded by a judge (see Ex 21:22-25) and does not allow for the victim to exact vengeance himself (see Lev 19:17). The OT never endorses hate as the proper response to our mistreatment by others.* This became quite clear to me as I was reading and meditating today on Psalm 35, especially verses 13-14:
But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer kept returning in my bosom. I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother.
When those who sought for David’s life experienced sickness or difficult times, his reaction was not one of smug satisfaction or pleasure at their expense, but of genuine, sincere sorrow on their behalf! He fasted, prayed, and mourned on their behalf as if they were his own family.
While I would not consider myself the most vindictive or begrudging person that I know, I fall quite short of the mark of David’s empathy for his enemies. Though it is a rare occasion that I seek revenge toward someone who has wronged me, it is an even rarer occasion that I mourn their calamity, pray, or fast on their behalf. Frankly, these are actions that I rarely do for friends, much less enemies! When someone cuts me off and flies past me on the interstate and I pass by them and a state trooper a mile up the road, I’m not mourning their calamity! In fact, I’m tempted to stop and tell that state trooper just how fast and reckless they were driving before he saw them! (And it’s not because I’m concerned with justice being done—which is a perfectly legitimate attitude—it’s because they’ve wronged me and I’m glad to see them suffer!) But David’s reaction toward the calamity of those who’d wronged him is exactly what Jesus meant in Luke 6. This is the love that both David and Christ demonstrated: the love that turns the other cheek and prays for the forgiveness and well-being of those who have wronged us, even those who would kill us given the opportunity. This is that attitude I must imitate. This is part of what it means to be Christian and the essence of what it means to show the love of Christ to the world.
*There is a proper time and place for righteous indignation, or “hate,” but not in response to the infringement of our “rights.” Look for a later post on the usage of “hate” in the Bible, which is used quite frequently by the psalmists.