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Love / Hate Your Enemies


Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Lk 3:27). During the Sermon on the Mount he taught, “You have heard that it was said: Love your neighbour and hate your enemy” (Mt 5:43). The Old Testament never taught to hate enemies. Jesus did not quote this from the Old Testament. So, unlike saying “have you read” he said, “have you heard.”

“Hate your enemies” was erroneous teaching of the rabbis taken out of context from God’s instruction to the Israelites when they would occupy Canaan. “But, in the cities of the peoples which the LORD gives you as an inheritance, you shall not leave anything alive. You must destroy them under the curse of destruction – the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – just as the LORD, your God, has commanded you, that they may not teach you all the detestable practices in which they have indulged in honour of their gods, thus causing you to sin against the LORD, your God” (Deut 20:16-18). This was to prevent the Israelites from breaking the first commandment. Though the Israelites remained as a separate colony in Egypt, their interaction with the pagans in Egypt had influenced them to worship Egyptian gods. God did not want to repeat the same in Canaan. The religious leaders converted this temporary command of God into a general instruction to ‘hate your enemy,’ no matter that he may happen to be your countryman!

The Old Testament also taught that one must treat enemies with respect and kindness. “If you see your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, take it back to him. When you see the donkey of a man who hates you falling under its load, do not pass by; but help him to raise it up” (Ex 23:4-5). In Proverbs, we read, “If your enemy is hungry give him something to eat, if thirsty, something to drink” (Prov 25:21). “Do not rejoice if your enemy falls or let your heart be glad if he stumbles” (Prov 24:17).

Jesus reversed the false teaching of the rabbis and misunderstanding of the ordinary people on how to treat their enemies. A disciple must handle the enemy like a friend. He must love the enemy and do good for him or her. Jesus practiced what he taught, and he did not show any hatred to his enemies. He prayed for them and healed some of them. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to include, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are in debt to us” (Mt 6:12).


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