Jonah hated the people of Nineveh, and he had reason: they were legitimately a nation filled
with cruel and evil people. There are people in our world today, both near and far, who give us
reason to hate them. To deny this is to rob the message of Jonah of its power and its gospel
witness. It is also to soften the piercing command of Jesus in Matthew 5:44 “I say to you, love
your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus isn’t being hyperbolic — at times we
will all have real enemies, just as Jesus did (see John 15:18-20) — but Jesus’ point is that we
can’t use that as an excuse to hate them back.
Let’s be honest, sometimes we like to hate. The command to love our enemies is hard because
we like to hate them. It satisfies our selfishness; hate prioritizes “us” over “them” and it never
asks us to love and serve “them.” Our hatred also satisfies our own internal sense of justice. But
this is precisely what Jesus takes aim at in Matthew 5:43-48.
Jesus attacks the principle ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies,’ not by denying that
there is such a thing as fairness and justice, but by showing that we don’t get to use the Old
Testament law as a way to justify our own personal hatred. In other words, we don’t get to use
passages that speak against racism, for instance, as an excuse to justify our personal hatred of
racists. We don’t get to use passages that speak against murder to deny grace to murderers.
We simply don’t have the right to deny people the gospel of grace simply because we don’t like
the way they need the Savior. The reality is: we all need saving.
This is the heart of Jonah’s problem. Jonah likes hating the Ninevites, because they were his
enemies and the enemy of Israel. Do you love your enemies, great and small? Friends and
family can be enemies. Revolting relatives, rude coworkers, business rivals, proud teachers or
students, insecure people who resent your competence, those who lust for power, the bitter ex,
the angry spouse, and far more – all can be our enemies. In 2020 we face an election; for many
people in our country, politics has become a religion. We measure moral character and define
our allies and enemies according to political affiliation.
The command of Jesus to love, exemplified in the call of Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, is a
call to love all of our enemies. In the book Love in Hard Places, D.A. Carson recounts “Karl
Barth was once asked, ‘Is it true that one day in heaven we will see again our loved ones?’ He
replied, ‘Not only the loved ones.’”
Who are you being called to love today?