You have heard, that it was said: Love your neighbor and do not do good to your enemy. But this I tell you: love your enemies; and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. For he makes his sun rise on both the wicked and the good; and he gives rain to both the just and the unjust.
If you love those who love you, what is special about that? Do not even tax collectors do as much? And if you are friendly only to your friends, what is so exceptional about that? Do not even the pagans do as much? As for you, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
To many Christians Jesus’ injunction to love our enemies appears to be an impossible demand on his part. “How can I love that bastard Joe and that bitch Jane when I feel like tearing them to shreds?”
The operative word here is feel. Those Christians, brainwashed as they are by the media, are convinced that love is essentially a feeling. Now, since they feel only negative feelings toward their enemies, they cannot imagine how they can reverse those negative feelings into positive feelings merely on the strength of Jesus’ command. And, of course, they cannot, and that is not what Jesus is asking them to do.
But love is not basically a feeling. It is an act of the will—sometimes accompanied by positive feelings, but not always. This means that by a free act of my will I can ignore my negative feelings for Joe and Jane and force myself to love them in action. Here Luke’s version of these verses of Matthew is clear: “Do good to those who hate you… bless… pray… lend money” (Lk 6:27-36). These are all actions I can perform regardless of my negative feelings. And that is all Jesus asks of us: to love in action. And, if we do that, we will soon experience a change in our negative feelings.