You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
St John Chrysostom commenting on the narrative in 1 Samuel 24, in which King Saul is seeking to murder David, who is now God’s chosen servant, shows what loving your enemies might look like for a Christian. In the narrative there is a turn of events and David, suddenly given the opportunity to kill Saul, instead spares Saul’s life. Chrysostom says:
Paul, in fact urged this in saying, ‘Treat one another as superior to yourselves’ (Phil 2: 3). This is what David did, being the first to show respect and, when shown it, showing greater respect in return, saying, ‘Your servant, My Lord the King.‘ See what great benefit he gained: when David said this, Saul could not bear any longer to hear this voice without weeping; instead, he cried out bitterly, revealing by his tears the soundness of spirit and the right values that David had instilled. What could be more blessed than the prophet’s reforming his enemy in such a short space of time, winning over a soul thirsting for his blood and murder, and suddenly reducing him to laments and groans?
[Chrysostom sees in the narrative that David in showing mercy to Saul (who is seeking to kill David) is able to convert his enemy into a friend. Abraham Lincoln once made a comment about why he sought support from some who were his enemies in his own political party when his advisors felt he should attempt to ‘destroy’ his opponents. Lincoln said something to the effect that if I convert my enemies into my friends have I not destroyed my enemies?
Chrysostom sees David’s success in converting his enemy a greater miracle than when Moses was able to bring water from a rock by striking it with his rod to slake the thirst of the Israelites wandering in the desert. St John thinks it more amazing to be able to change a heart of stone than to bring forth water from a rock. He thinks David’s decision not to kill Saul when he had opportunity was pretty amazing as well as David showed himself merciful. But even a greater miracle was by David’s mercy, Saul’s heart is converted.]
I do not marvel as much at Moses for drawing torrents of water from the split rock as I marvel at David for drawing torrents of tears from stony eyes: the former overcame nature, the latter prevailed over free will; the former smote the rock with his rod, the latter struck the heart with his word, not to do damage, but to render him pure and gentle—which in fact he did by giving greater evidence of kindness than before. While, he deserves commendation and deep admiration for not staining his sword or cutting off that hostile head, yet his changing the man’s very will, making him better and bringing him round to his own gentle ways would deserve far greater crowns. The latter favor was greater than the former: bestowing the gift of life does not match, leading one to sound values; ridding one of resentment after his panting for unjust slaughter, stopping one from murder, and removing one from the frenzy that leads on to such an awful wrong are not of equal significance. (OLD TESTAMENT HOMILIES Vol 1, pp 52-53)