But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.
The word tradition in Greek comes from two words: para (“beside”) and didomi (“to give”). Therefore, a tradition was something given alongside something else. In first- century Jewish culture, traditions were teachings of the Jewish elders that they gave alongside the Law of Moses. Those traditions were often given equal, if not more, weight than the Law itself.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls into question one of those traditions: “You have heard that it was said, ‘. . . hate your enemy’” (Matthew 5:43). Nowhere in the Old Testament were the Jews taught to hate their enemies. Did some Israelites express hatred for the enemies of God? Yes (Psalm 139:21-22)—but not because they were commanded to. Instead, the Law taught the Jews to treat their enemies with kindness (Exodus 23:4-5).
The definition of enemy is a sliding scale. We all have those for whom feelings of dislike, resentment, even hatred are evoked. But those feelings are to be replaced by Jesus’ teaching: Love your enemy. Or in the words of both Testaments, love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18; Luke 10:27, 36- 37).
Alas, our heart is our greatest enemy.