Luke 6:27-28 But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

Martin Luther King advised those who wanted to participate in civil rights marches and lunch counter sit-ins: “If you can’t be nonviolent, don’t get in it.” Flesh-shredding water from fire hoses, snarling police dogs, and cigarette burns would test the resolve of those confronting racial hatred.

When Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies, he creates a new and radical standard for relationships—a standard governed by love. Jesus offers something better and more merciful than a life caught in the tit-for-tat cycle of retaliation—and also more risky. There is no guarantee that the love we offer to the world will be returned in kind. But Jesus says we should offer it nonetheless, if we want to be free as God is free and love as God loves.

Dr. King’s vision of what he called the “beloved community” was inspired by Jesus’ kingdom, where hate-fueled divisions do not exist. This kingdom comes near when, with God’s help, we can finally achieve what seems impossible: to love our neighbors and our enemies as ourselves. 

MOVING FORWARD: Read Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”