Matthew 5:38-48 (2017)
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 Psalm 119:33-40 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Joseph & Pen speak first
In today’s reading from Matthew Jesus now needs the disciples to realize what it means to be his disciples in the world, that following him will mean meeting up with those with whom you would rather not come in contact with, those whom you might consider your enemy. He says Love your enemies. You will come across those outside of your immediate circles with whom the principles you learned from Jesus you’d rather not share.
Some of Jesus’ words may even be considered offensive. He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”
He goes on to say – If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have, what’s the point of being my disciple – In fact we can ask ourselves – how is that a mark of discipleship?
How is that living into Jesus’ last words that he said to his disciples at the end of the Gospel, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:16-20, the Great Commission, should resonate in our minds at all times, because this is where Matthew is going, this is where Jesus is going, and the disciples (you and I) need to know this on the front end. The disciples, again you and I, need to know the end goal of Emmanuel—that their and our discipleship, in part, means bringing “God with us” to the world.
Loving your enemies doesn’t sit well with most of us. First, we have to determine just who those enemies are. They are often not the obvious people. Determining the identity of our enemy is a line that has been blurred by the global response to terrorism. Our enemy has indeed become our neighbour, or so we think. Suddenly, the world that Jesus’ envisioned has become rather small. And that is not a good turn of events. Our similarities have become our differences and our differences our similarities.
We suspect those we never did. We question those who we thought were our friends. We look differently at those that others have said, “Do you really know who they are?”
Jesus simply says – love your enemies and to love your enemies means just that, and it is an important message as we quickly approach the season of Lent, when those you hoped would walk alongside you end up abandoning you.
Our enemies are not always those we deem our opposites, our detractors, our challengers, or resisters. Our enemies are all too often those whom we do indeed love.
So basically Jesus tells his followers what God’s reign on earth looks like.
Jesus calls his audience not to take up arms, but to be bearers of the kingdom by turning the other cheek, loving their enemies, and being perfect as God is perfect. Compared to all the great empires of world history, Jesus’ advice appears ridiculous. What kind of kingdom works this way?
The principle of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” seems to be just. The punishment should fit the crime. Jesus, however, tells his followers not to resist one who is evil (5:39). In fact, when wronged, it is better to suffer more wrong than to retaliate unjustly.
These would-be kingdom bearers are not called to suffer passively, though. They are called to do the unthinkable. They are called to love those who persecute them and pray for them (5:43-44). In Matthew’s Gospel love is not for the faint hearted (19:19; 22:37-39); Jesus’ very mission is a demonstration of God’s love.
As disciples we are to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors so that they may be “children of your Father who is in heaven” (5:45).
We all know well that God allows the sun to shine on the evil and the good alike, and that life-giving rain will fall on the just and the unjust (5:46). God, who has power over life and death, provides life-sustaining conditions even for those who are opposed to God’s goodness.
Anyone can love the lovely (5:46-47). But Jesus demands love for those who are incapable of showing love in return.
Jesus calls his followers to be perfect “as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48). This is a high standard for all who would claim to be disciples.
They are not simply taught to meet the minimum requirements of the law; they are to fulfill the intentions of the law (5:21-48).
They are not just called to endure when wronged; they are called to love their oppressors.
And of course the one important factor in all of this is – that none of these commandments of Jesus is possible without God’s reign.
It all comes back to what Jesus has previously taught us – that these things, if you like – the hope of perfection is only possible because of God’s presence. “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).
Clearly the kingdom of heaven does not operate like the kingdoms of this world. How then will we know when we see God’s kingdom?
The answer of course comes from the words of Jesus himself through today’s reading – The answer is –
When anger results in reconciliation rather than retaliation then God must be at work.
When enemies are overcome by love rather than violence then God’s reign is present.
Jesus’ message may not appeal to those in power, especially those with the ability to strike with no fear of retaliation. But we need to remember that Jesus’ audience is full of peasants who were living at the subsistence level.
They have known the heavy taxation of Rome and had experienced the evils of political oppression.
Yet, Jesus does not rally them to overthrow the government as others before him.
He reinforces through tough parables, through this Sermon on the Mount – that God’s kingdom is bigger than Roman rule.
God’s power is greater than Roman oppression.
And that God’s justice will prevail.
Jesus will indeed prove his kingship in this Gospel, but only with a crown of thorns and a Roman cross. And the cross is a powerful tool that we will hear more about as the call of discipleship becomes clearer for us.
Let us pray.