Fair Not Equal
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Parent in heaven.” – Matthew 5:43-44 (NRSV, with inclusive language)
They say that one of the keys to parenting multiple kids is to treat them with fairness, not equality. Precise equality makes a kind of sense; they’re equally your children. And yet, kids are individuals. Doing everything exactly the same for each would probably reduce the amount of whining in the short run, but in the long run it would lead to some kids getting more than they need—of discipline, attention, screen time, face time, guitar lessons, whatever—and some getting less. Better to give each kid what they actually need, instead of the solution to some equation.
I choose to apply that same reasoning to Jesus’ commandment. My enemies and persecutors are all children of the living God, and so you could argue that I should treat them all equally. But listen: there are enemies and there are enemies. There are persecutors and there are persecutors.
The kid who used to be lightly mean to me in fourth grade and the guy currently strategizing how to delegitimize my marriage are not the same kind of persecutor. Someone who just cut you off in traffic is a different kind of enemy than an abusive spouse is. I believe Jesus wants you to consider not just what they need, but what you need, too, for your survival, for your soul.
Your response to your various enemies and persecutors—your Christian response to them—needn’t require equal amounts of time, energy, forgiveness, or especially vulnerability. Not yet, anyway; maybe not ever, this side of eternity.
God, give my enemies what they deserve, and give my persecutors just exactly what they truly need.
Quinn G. Caldwell is Chaplain of the Protestant Cooperative Ministry at Cornell University. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.