Friday, January 21, 2005

"You have been told 'an eye for an eye....' "

In the New Testament, the idea of "enemy" has a real tang, a serious bite. New Testament scholars now agree, for example, that the image of Pilate negotiating with the crowd, offering Barabbas over Jesus, and deliberating over his execution with a a foreshadowing dream, is pure fiction. The historical Pontius Pilate apparently ordered crucifixions as casually as another would order eggs and sausage for breakfast. In fact, Pilate was so brutal the Romans finally removed him from his procurate. The Romans were brutal, but they understood the necessity of judgment, and Pilate was too brutal and quick to judge even for them.

Both Herods, too, come off as bloodthirsty. The first massacres all the males 2 and under in Bethlehem, according to Matthew. Later, Herod has John the Baptist's head served up to Salome on a platter. Just within the limits of the gospel stories alone, "enemies" has a much more serious bite than it does for our domestic politics.

Still, Jesus walked among the people who suffered under such tyrants, who daily lived with such brutality, and said: "Love your enemies." The phrase has become such a well-worn stone in our cultural pockets that it has no edges anymore. It is a phrase that deserves an edge, however. What does it mean, to "love your enemies"? How is it possible to love people who would kill you as easily as step on a roach? How is it possible to love people as morally and ethically blind as Dick Cheney, or George Bush, or Condoleeza Rice, or Alberto Gonzalez. How do we love people who promote torture as statecraft, who are obviously willfully blind to the consequences of their actions, who clearly live in a world so divorced from reality as to indicate psychosis?

People who differ from Pilate and Herod only in the degree to which they can punish their political enemies. How do we love them?

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