The teaching of Jesus is pretty clear: everyone is to be seen and treated as a member of your own family. What is not so clear is its application. What does it mean to love an Osama bin Laden? Was Dietrich Bonheoffer correct when he participated in the plot to kill Hitler? You can certainly make the argument that love of neighbor trumps the love of Hitler and calls for a necessary violence, but what about this command to love your enemies?
The argument that love of neighbor trumps love of enemy is the same argument that justifies violence in the protection of one’s family. Though we must admit this is often just a mask for protecting what matters to me – my stuff, my people.
What would it look like, face to face with a burglar, to love him? What does love require? What does it mean to regard him or her as a brother or sister?
I would not let my child steal from another. It is certainly not in my child’s best interest to allow such behavior. To stand by, to not stop her, would not be an act of love toward her. If I would not let a family member do such a thing, I should not let any others do so. There are parents who report their children to the police because they know their child must be held accountable. Yet, in Les Miserables, when Valjean has been captured running from the bishop’s home with the bishop’s treasured silver, and thrown down at the Bishop’s feet by the policeman Javert with the unlikely story that the silver was a gift, the Bishop says, “My friend, you left in such a hurry you forgot the candlesticks.” It is an act of generosity and grace that transforms Valjean’s life.
The path Jesus lays out for us, the path of creative and radical response to the brokenness of the world in hopes of healing, is not black and white. It’s not a simple list of rules. It is a much more complicated journey of compassion and wisdom, creativity and courage – like giving up your cloak and going home naked or insisting your adversary treat you with honor by striking your left cheek. It is a journey shaped by a vision of the world made whole – the world made perfect – the world reconciled and transformed. It is a journey shaped by nothing less that God’s own Spirit.
Such a journey can easily be sidetracked by our ability to deceive ourselves and rationalize our desires if it is not governed by a serious attention to the voice of God that comes down to us through the law and prophets – and by participation in a community of faith listening together to that Word. Rules are so much simpler. But if rules were enough, Moses would have been enough. We need also the story of the cross (the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep) the resurrection (God’s vindication of Jesus) and the ascension (that this Jesus, crucified and risen, is the governing truth of all existence, the bread and water of life, the light and life of the world).
The Bishop understands the power of love, the sacrificial gift, and the creative response to life’s brokenness. Javert couldn’t grasp such a world of radical and reckless grace. But it is the true journey to wholeness.