The barbershop was like every other barbershop.
The war had gotten bloody, confusing, and anger toward the enemy had been growing steadily for years.
As the barbers cut and shaved and talked, one man getting his hair cut proposed a simple solution to the war protesters who had come to town, “They ought to round up every one of them sons of b*%ches and put them right in front of the damned communists, and then whoever killed who, it would be all to the good.”
This story, as told by Wendell Berry in his novel Jayber Crow took place during the Vietnam War. As the men in the barbershop echoed their passionate agreements, Jayber, the barber, spoke up and said,
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.”
The first man, Troy, jerked his head up and widened his eyes, “Where did you get that crap?”
Jayber responded, “Jesus Christ.” (Matthew 5:44)
Troy said, “Oh.”
Then Wendell Berry penned a cutting indictment on the entire conversation that I, unfortunately, have been a part of far too often,
“It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.”
You see, the verse Jayber quotes might be one of the most difficult Jesus ever uttered, and possibly the most misunderstood and I’m in no way claiming to have it understood.
When Jesus says, “love your enemies” you know what he means? LOVE YOUR ENEMIES. It sure seems like we’ve tried all the hermeneutical gymnastics we can muster to make Jesus say anything except what he actually said.
When Jesus says love I wish he said teach or correct. That’s how Jayber operates and I know the feeling all too well. It’s hypocrisy in its purest form, when a Christian criticizes someone else who doesn’t love their enemies and in the process the criticizing Christian fails in the exact same way.
Love your enemy doesn’t mean teach, correct, convert, change, or hate your enemy. When Jesus spoke those words, he was very aware that those of us alive today would be living in a “drop-the-mic” culture that overvalues one’s abilities to shut down anyone who might disagree with us but it’s time for a change.