43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor
and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray
for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who
is 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. 46 For if you love those who love you,
what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if
you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not
even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your
heavenly Father is perfect."
We are now at the last section that follows Jesus' statement that He
has come to fulfill the law and the prophets. Throughout this long passage,
Jesus has been expounding on what true righteousness, the righteousness that
He fulfills, truly is. Jesus is revealing to us the righteousness that flows
from God's heart, His character. In the previous section to what we are
going to study now, Jesus tells His listeners that true righteousness involves
a freedom to love and serve others regardless of their words or actions towards
This section is closely connected to the one right before it. These verses
are also dealing with the freedom of true righteousness to love another without
reference to whether or not they love or care for you. The truly righteous
one relies on God's overflowing love and therefore can even move towards
his/her enemy in loving service.
Jesus introduces this section, as with the previous five, with a saying that
would be familiar to his audience, "You shall love your neighbor and hate
your enemy." Unlike some of the previous sections, this quote does not
come from the Old Testament. The Old Testament does, however, contain the idea
that it is pious to hate God's enemies (Ps. 109:19-22). Praying for one's
enemies did not generally characterize "even the most pious in the Old
Testament"(The IVP Bible Background Commentary, p.61).
Wherever the saying came from, it must have been one that Jesus' listeners
would have readily recognized and generally approved of. It was a generally
accepted idea that we love those we consider to be like us, our neighbors,
those that are "on our side" and we hate those whom we believe oppose
us, are on "the other side," our enemies. In the previous section
we give back to others according to what they give to us, tit for tat. Our
action toward them is determined b their actions towards us. Here we have the
same mindset. We love or hate others depending on whether they are for or against
us. A friend is a friend and an enemy is an enemy--one is just reacting to
what already is.
Jesus' definition of righteousness involves a freedom that enables us
to move towards our enemies in a new and surprising way. "But I say to
you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..." Jesus
is saying that the one who is righteous will treat his/her enemy with love,
the same way he treats his neighbor. To deal righteously with those who persecute
you is to bring them to the Father in prayer.
This is true of Jesus, the One who fulfills all righteousness. He loves those
who oppose him and prays for his persecutors. What amazing good news it is
that Jesus does not allow his enemies to determine how he will treat them.
Therefore, they do not need to remain his enemies. From Jesus' side,
there is no reason for them to remain so.
This freedom is what Jesus shares with us in His fulfilling of God's
will. His intent for us is to give us this same capacity to refuse to treat
our enemies as enemies, but instead to extend God's love to them, to
bring them before the Father in prayer with the hope that from their own side
as well, we will not remain enemies.
Jesus goes on to clearly connect this righteousness with God's heart
towards us. As we love and pray for our enemies, Jesus indicates that we are
living as God's own children, mirroring the life and character of our
heavenly Father. We share the family resemblance when we love in this way.
At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares that the peacemakers
are blessed because they shall be called the children of God. Peacemakers are
those who offer God's shalom in the midst of conflict. God is the Peacemaker.
He is the One, through and in His Son, who makes peace where there is no possibility
of peace, provides forgiveness and healing in the face of evil and brokenness.
Furthermore, peace becomes possible when we love our enemies. Jesus goes on
to point out that God "makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,
and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." God pours out blessing
on all, regardless of their present state of goodness or evil. God does not
look to us to decide how to behave towards us. His love is not dependent on
our behavior or our attitude towards him. He acts first, moving to love us,
to bless us.
It is in receiving His love that we are freed and enabled to love our enemies.
Our enemies cannot tell us who we are, they cannot give us our lives. We are
not stuck, being able only to react to others. We have a mediator between us
and others in Christ. Jesus does not leave us empty-handed or with a mere command
to fulfill on our own power. It is in recognizing the true poverty of our souls,
our real inability to love those we see as enemies, that we are able to receive
the Father's deep love for us. And that's what we have to pass
on to others.
It is clear that Jesus intends for us to go beyond what we could do on our
own. After His description of the impartial grace of our heavenly Father, Jesus
asks His listeners, "For if you love those who love you, what reward have
you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your
brethren, what more are you doing than others? do not even the Gentiles do
the same?" There is nothing surprising or unusual about loving those that
treat you well and opposing those who don't. It is not a sign of anything
extraordinary. We can do this without help. Jesus points out that even those
who do not know or trust in God can manage this much.
But what about those times when we see or experience reconciliation between
enemies? When Corrie Ten Boom, who spent several months in a German prison
camp during World War II, met one of the soldiers from that same camp a few
years after the war, she was able to forgive him. That is amazing! It takes
our breath away to consider it. How can anger and hate be transformed to forgiveness
and love? It seems truly impossible. I remember hearing of a man to who traveled
some distance to a prison in order to extend forgiveness to the man who murdered
his wife. We all know stories like this. And they always thrill and baffle
us. These stories give us hope that what is horribly broken can be changed,
healed and made right.
This hope extends really to all of our relationships. Who we recognize as our
enemies can change. I don't think Jesus is just talking about national,
political, family or clan enemies. Who we perceive to be our enemy can be any
one who at this moment is opposing us, or not caring for us as we want and
who we are tempted to treat us with anger and hurt. Sometimes when I am angry
at someone I am close to, I don't see him/her clearly anymore. For that
moment, he/she is my "enemy." Our enemies might be those we are supposed
to get along with, someone in our extended family, our church, or at work,
that we have great difficulty dealing well with.
In all of these various situations of conflict, we count on God's grace
to transform our hearts. We are to bring our "enemies", and ourselves,
to God in prayer for His intervention in our lives. Remembering the truth of
God's great love for us and His ability to work in the midst of our frailty
can enable us to count on Him to change our hearts, to have hope that He can
transform us to move forward in His love. And every time we see him change
our hearts, it is a wonder and a miracle.
We can count on Him to transform our hearts because this is who God is. The
gospel is the story of God wooing and loving us, His enemies. He cared for
us before we even knew or cared that He existed. Transforming conflict into
peace and well-being is at the heart of who He is. And His ability and desire
to bring about reconciliation will never run out. His continuing work is to
reconcile everything to Himself in Christ. It is God who continually accomplishes
the impossible--of enabling me to love, when on my own I only experience anger
God's will for us, Jesus' concludes, is that we will finally, in
the end, be able to move towards others out of grace, love, and hope all the
time, like God does. "You must be perfect, as your heavenly father is
perfect." The Greek verb is future tense, so a more literal translation
is "You will be perfect, as you heavenly father is perfect." God's
desire for us is nothing less than for us to be as free from hate, anger, and
brokenness as He is, that we become able to experience and live in His true
love, a free giving and receiving that always blesses.
Jesus began this section telling His listeners that He fulfills God's
will, that He is the righteous One. He is here to give us a share in that righteousness,
that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees and is here
described as being perfect or mature. The righteousness Christ is and shares
with us is being in right relationship with God and therefore with all things
created by God. God is ready to lead us to this perfection and He will not
love us less than to make us truly His children.
I am so thankful that God loves us to perfection. There may be times when I
think I want Him to love me less, to let me hold onto my petty thoughts of
revenge, my hate and anger, but I see the foolishness of being left there.
He works to bring us to our full completion in Him, to finally truly be who
He created us to be. Hallelujah!