In Luke’s account of Jesus’ “love your enemies” command there’s an interesting difference from the better-known iteration in Matthew. Luke 6:35 reads “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Matthew, by contrast gives the rationale as being “for he [God] makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matt 5:45).
In Matthew the rationale for enemy-love is a sort of universally equal divine regard for the evil and the good alike (everybody gets sunshine and rain from God). Luke however states emphatically that God is kind to the wicked. This is a different matter altogether. We can generally countenance “loving” our enemies in the sense of hard-nosedly refusing to do them harm out of reluctant obedience to God (ostensibly thus heaping some lovely coals on their eternal souls, cf. Rom 12:20). But, are we willing to be kind to the evildoers, the oppressors, the enemy?
Taking this sort of notion seriously will always be a transgressive act, unnameable to most causes. Will Campbell, to my mind, bears out this sort of unconscionable ethic better than anyone else I know of. Consider his somewhat outrageous advocacy on behalf of members of the Kl Klux Klan:
Several months ago the Columbia Broadcasting System did a documentary film which was called “Ku Klux Klan: The Invisible Empire.” It showed the horror of such things as lynching and floggings, night riding and bombings, the castration of Judge Aaron in Alabama, the murder of four Sunday school children at prayer in Birmingham. All dreadful crimes. But there were many important things they did not tell us. They did not tell us that the same thing produced them as produces the violence born of frustration and deprivation in the black ghetto. The film did not tell us that the white redneck ghetto is produced by the same social forces as produces the black ghetto.
It did not tell us about a man, who is a friend of mine who is a leader in the Ku Klux Klan. I have no parish. I have no pulpit, and he has no church that wants him. So, you might say, I am his priest and pastor. Mr. CBS did not tell us about how his father left him when he was six years old. How his mother went to work in a textile sweat shop where for 37 years, she sewed the seam down the right leg of overalls. They did not tell us about how this boy was sent to reform school; how he ran away because he was a big boy and joined the army at 14, was jumping out of airplanes when he was 16, leading a platoon when he was 18. How for 17 years he learned from us the fine art of torture, interrogation, and guerilla warfare.
The film did not tell us that the same social forces produced the Klan’s violence that produced the violence of Watts, Rochester, Cleveland, Washington, and Nashville, and will produce much more. They did not tell us that the Klansmen are victims of the same social isolation, deprivation, economic conditions, rejections, under and unemployment, broken homes, ignorance, poor schools, no hospitals, bad diets, all the rest. (Writings on Resistance and Reconciliation, 37-38)
Too often our inclination towards peaceableness and social justice easily dispenses with our call, not merely to love victims, but to love the wicked, the evil, unrepentant, ungrateful ones whom Christ no less came to serve, die, and be resurrected for. The truly subversive word of the cross is not merely that God is on the side of the oppressed—Oh how easy is it for for us to facilely find a way to lump ourselves on the side of the victims!—but that God is on the side of all whom he has made. That God in Jesus bled and died no less for Hitler than for Gandhi.
Is that a word that we can stand? Can we stand the notion that God is kind to the wicked? That they, no less than the oppressed are slaves of the powers whom God has chosen, with his very blood, to liberate? Do we really dare to accept a liberation with and alongside the wicked? Because God in Christ offers no other liberation. And thanks be to God.