Enemies are scary. Kinda by definition. You’re supposed to shoot them. Or something. Who are your enemies? Who are ours? Who are mine? Stop and think. Start naming our enemies. Do you have enemies in mind? You need to get one before you continue!!! Think of one! Ok, now go on.
Well, back in the Old Testament, the Children of Israel had enemies. A lot of them. But those closest to us can always hurt us the worst. I’ve had some fun lately digging into some Old Testament history.
About 1400 B.C., Joshua dies (unsurprisingly at the end of the book of Joshua). After that, Gideon lays the smack down on some Midianites (in Judges, it’s such a sweet story, too bad it’s really unrelated to this one) and then Eli, the high priest, leaves Moses’ desert tabernacle on Mount Gerizim and builds a second one under his rule among the hills of Shiloh (1 Samuel), somewhere around 1100 B.C. The folks still back on Mount Gerizim feel this creates an illegitimate priesthood and a bogus tabernacle. And the folks at Shiloh harbor some ill will toward the old farts back on Gerizim.
Now do you remember the time in the Old Testament when Israel split into the northern and southern kingdoms in 931 B.C.? Well, this was pretty much the cause of it. Saul and David and Solomon did an admirable job trying to keep the kingdom together. But still, the guys in the north really didn’t like the temple in Jerusalem. It couldn’t be held together any more. The north was quite adamant God was high atop Mount Gerizim. So there. Okay, fine then. The south said the north was full of heretics, practicing idolatry up there in them thar hills far away from Jerusalem. Civil war ensued. The TEN tribes in the north kept the name ‘Israel’. The TWO tribes in the south took on the name ‘Judah’.
Then the feud got exceptionally nasty around 722 B.C., when Sargon II from Assyria conquered the northern kingdom. Skipping ahead to 2 Kings 17, Sargon II decides to take a pass on going after Judah in the south, and contents himself in bringing all his POWs from Israel back to Assyria. But they didn’t stay in Assyria. This Sargon cat was wicked smart. And mean. He split all the Israelites up and dissipated them out to the farthest-flung provinces of his empire, essentially shattering any chance they had at maintaining a sense of culture and heritage. These became lamented as the Ten Lost Tribes, one of history’s most affective, thorough, mysterious and amazing disappearing acts.
Shortly thereafter, those in the southern kingdom (Judah) essentially suffered the same, if somewhat delayed, fate. The north had prophets warning them (Amos and Hosea) as did the south (Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah who recorded the north’s demise and predicted the south’s, Habakkuk and whichever lugubrious soul wrote Lamentations, probably also Jeremiah), before the south got nailed about 136 years after the north in 586 B.C.
A couple hundred years after the north was taken and just a bit after the south was taken, Ezra, and then Nehemiah, return home to Israel/Judah, only to realize it appears Sargon the Deuce and his successors did the same thing to others, taking non-Jewish POWs from his other wars and scattering them all over the place too, including old Israel/Judah. Now in Israel/Judah those returning from exile find their ancient lands occupied by these apparent squatters. The returning exiles were appalled such a ragtag group of imposters would dare call themselves Jews! And the squatters were downright livid the exiles didn’t recognize their inherent Jewish-ness.
The posers claimed to be the remnant, the group Sargon II missed when he carried off the POWs, descended a couple hundred years. They claimed to be the ethnically intact and pure Jewry. And argued the returning exiles had been defiled, lost their pure blood and pure religion to their slavery and mixed-breeding. Wait, no! The ragtags that were sent to occupy Israel by Sargon II were the mixed-breeds!!! Oh, boy.
Well, the Talmud, the renowned historian Josephus and 2 Kings all seem to support the claim that Sargon II did indeed send a diverse and piecemeal bunch of pagans to repopulate Israel. In fact, 2 Kings goes into some detail, explaining how the pagans begged Sargon II to send back a Jewish priest to teach them the religion of the land when lions started snacking on them. And wouldn’t stop. 2 Kings even goes into the details of where these squatters were sent from, and it’s a long list of various towns.
But as you would expect, they just mixed Yahweh in with their own gods to form a witches’ brew of half-baked heretical beliefs and erected altars and statues to such in the temples of this abandoned Israel. 2 Kings even goes into specifics such as child sacrifices and other unpleasantries. If you read the end of the chapter, you can even sense the ill will Jeremiah had toward them, that their children and children’s children kept up these ugly practices, ‘even to this day’.
So when Ezra and Nehemiah get back and want to rebuild the temple, these half-bred heretics come and welcome them home like long-lost brothers and offer to help them rebuild. Well, they don’t even look like they’re the same ethnicity, let alone speak the same language. Ezra tells them thanks, but no thanks. Except he’s not that nice. In his own book (Ezra 4), he describes the squatters as the adversaries of Judah, even though they’ve been the stewards of the land for the last 200 years, feeling like they’ve been practicing good Jewiness and probably using words like ‘Jewiness’ on accident, and offering to help rebuild the temple. Ezra says, ‘You may do NOTHING with us!’ Well that’s not very neighborly.
So the squatters got pissed. They started writing letters to the new king, Cyrus at that time, then Darius later, just trying to give the returned exiles trouble. The squatters developed a sense of freedom fighters against a much larger group of occupiers who sought to disband them.
Despite the opposition, the returned exiles eventually rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. The two groups, both claiming to be the true Jews and accusing the others of being fake and corrupted Jews, settle into this enduring enmity. The squatter Jews who are accused of not being true ethnic Jews and mixing religion, retreat up to the northern kingdom of Israel and Mount Gerizim, the site of the original and true temple. The returning exiles, accused of being corrupted and outbred while in exile without organized religion and study and worship and community, settle toward the south and Jerusalem, Judah. Whoa.
That’s not the end, though. The apogee came in 167 B.C. after Alexander the Great swept through with Hellenistic culture. The Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes ruled over the Jews. The dude proclaimed himself to be the incarnation of Zeus and condemned to death anybody refusing to worship him. That’s just harsh.
Well, the savvy mixed-breeds in the north decided they could accommodate. They would allow Antiochus to dedicate their temple up on Mount Gerizim to Zeus, and get this, somehow the north allowed Antiochus to erect an altar to Zeus in Jerusalem, in the south. Antiochus sacrificed a pig there, pretty much biggest heresy somebody could do. This became known as the ‘abomination of desolation’, which sounds impressive and important. Antiochus’ successor even leveled the temple on Mount Gerizim in 128 B.C.
But under the Romans, the temple was rebuilt and the group became a large and established community occupying a sizable chunk of land between Judea and Galilee.
Do you know who these people were?
These were none other than the Samaritans. They even got the name clear back in 1 Kings 21.
Yup, that’s right. These bastard displaced persons during the exile who dared to ask if they could help rebuild the temple and finally withdrew to Mount Gerizim, the site of the original Jewish temple to Yahweh, these are the Samaritans.
So there you had it. Jesus came along at a time when the mainstream Jews were in Judea to the south and Galilee in the north. Samaritans were sandwiched between the two groups. And they were hated. I mean hated. They were openly cursed in synagogues. They weren’t allowed to be witnesses in courts! Imagine, somebody could lodge a claim against you and you couldn’t even call a witness! In fact, get this, Samaritans were not even allowed to convert to Judaism!!! How’s that for evangelism! The official Jewish position was that no Samaritan could ever achieve any sort of afterlife.
Jews typically would cross the Jordan when traveling between the lands of Judea and Galilee just to avoid Samaria. After all, it could defile your holiness! You wanna start a fight, call a Jew a Samaritan and just see what happens! They were a spiritual brand of lepers, avoided at all costs, vocally condemned, and preferably struck with rocks should you unfortunately cross paths with one at an intersection. Idolaters worthy of death.
They were openly counted as enemies. Archenemies if ever there were. Centuries of bad, bad blood.
Let’s jump to Luke 10:25. ‘And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
‘He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”
‘So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”
‘And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”’
Okay, cool. Love God. Love neighbors. I’m down with that. Hang on…
‘But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”’
Then Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.
In the Good Samaritan, the Jew gets beat up and the holy priest and Levite pass him up, while the Samaritan helps him out. So Jesus says the Good Samaritan is the neighbor.
Yeah, I get that.
Wait. No. You mean…
So what you’re saying is…
We just said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Then we said, ‘The Samaritan was the Jew’s neighbor in the story.’
I studied math. If A = B, and B = C, then that means A = C.
So, that means I’m supposed to love the Samaritan as myself?
I’m supposed to love my ARCHENEMY as I love myself?!?!?!?
Surely you don’t mean that. Dude, this is complicated. There’s a loophole, right? It’s a parable, right? There’s wiggle room here, right? No?
Jesus traveled frequently through Samaria, refusing to traverse the Jordan River to avoid them. On one of those trips, he met the woman at the well. He asked her for water and she responded what the what? You know, right, I’m a Samaritan? You’re in Samaria. You know that, right? And you are aware you’re Jewish? You’re not even supposed to be stooping to speak to me. You want to drink water I give you?
And then Jesus does some craziness. He tells her she can have eternal life. That’s so a no-no for a Jew to think a Samaritan can get in on that! Not cool, Jesus!
It goes on. The woman tells him, Jesus, you know, right, that our fathers worshiped on this Mount Gerizim and you Jews say that people should worship in Jerusalem.
Are you kidding me??? This woman is rehashing the 1100-year-old debate?!?!??! Really?!??! She still knows 1100 years later what causing this divide! How messed up is that? Which mountain we can worship our omnipotent, omniscient and OMNIPRESENT God on?
But check it out, she’s ahead of the Jews. She goes on to recognize, ‘I know that Messiah is coming. When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ He’ll sort this big mess out between us. No worries.
Jesus responds, ‘Yup. You got it. That’s me. Guilty as charged.’
Wait, you’re the one to sort out the divide between us?
At this point, the disciples return from town and start straight trippin’ seeing Jesus chatting up a Samaritan woman. The woman walks into town and brings out a bunch of men, saying, ‘Come see this dude! Could this guy be the Christ?’
Then the Samaritans invited Jesus to stay and teach them. And Jesus stayed days with them. Amazing.
Even after the resurrection, Jesus still has his mind on the Samaritans. In Acts 1:8, the very verse before His ascension to Heaven, Jesus’ last words were, ‘You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ Dude specifically mentions Samaria. This guy for sure practices what He preaches.
And you can go on to read Acts 8, 9, 15, etc, where the disciples go ahead and witness to the Samaritans! Philip, Peter and John came and laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Saul, Paul and Barnabas all pay visits to Samaria too.
You know, when you really boil down Jesus’ life, you could make a reasonable argument that Jesus died for preaching the message ‘Love Your Enemy’. Very unpopular in Jesus’ time. Hmm… you know what? It’s actually a very unpopular message today. You say it’s easy? We all buy into it? We say we do. What would our lives actually look like if we genuinely bought into this principal. It’s powerful.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Gandhi. They pretty much both died for this message.
It’s a scary message. It could change the world.
What would be different if you could just Love Your Enemy?
Imagine. Imagine specifically. What was the enemy you thought about in the first paragraph? Do you think God gives you an out so you don’t really need to love that enemy as you love yourself? How would you behave differently, what would be different, if you loved that enemy as you love yourself?
Love Your Enemy. No exceptions. Imagine. Jesus felt it was worth dying for. Do you?