“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor 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;” from the Gospel according to St. Matthew.
In today’s reading from the Gospel, Jesus continues to upset the norms of society. The people had a concept of justice formed by the Law of Moses, and by the interpretations of that Law. The Pharisees were the arbiters of the Law, and they did not much care for any challenges to their authority.
Jesus doesn’t seem to care one bit about what they want. In fact he goes out of his way to challenge them, because he knows their hypocrisy. He knows that they worry about the cleanliness of the outside of a cup, but do not wash the inside.
Did you notice how Jesus introduces these concepts to the disciples?
He ways, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times,” and “But I say to you…”
The first part refers to the Mosaic Law. Last week he addressed some of the Then Commandments; You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, and You shall not swear falsely.
This week the teaching is a little different.
Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’” The concept here is that retaliation must be equal to the offense.
Jesus is referring to a passage in Leviticus which states, “And a man who injures his countryman – as he has done, so it shall be done to him [namely,] fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Just as he has injured a person, so it shall be done to him.” (Lev. 24:19–21)
This is also found in ancient Babylonian Law, dating to around 1750 BC. Islamic Sharia law contains this concept as well, but unlike more modern versions of justice, it is applied literally. In 2008 an Iranian court ordered that a man who blinded a woman in an acid attack must in turn be blinded by acid.
But Jesus says something different. He then adds, “But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
These are radical words that go against the laws of society, and strike at the heart of normal behavior. In fact for normal everyday people, this is impossible.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor 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;”
Love your enemies? That is a tall order! It is so much easier to hate your enemies, right?
In the world today people have twisted the meaning of the words love and hate. In fact I would say that people have twisted the words of Jesus to suit their own agendas.
Jesus taught us that we should care about each other, and that we should not retaliate for things done to us. He taught us that our lives should be about forgiveness and charity.
He said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”
In order to live this way, not only do we have to accept Jesus into our hearts, but we have to confront that part of ourselves that holds us back.
The true enemy is that unconscious part of ourselves that brings out the worst in us, that part of us blames all of our problems on others. If I am not getting ahead in this world it’s because someone else is trying to hold me back. If I am not rich it’s because the government is taking all of my money. If I don’t have a job it’s because the big corporate world wants me to fail. Or maybe it’s just bad luck.
Do you see how all of those are delusions? These negative things are not the fault of others, they are the fault of the evil one who wants us to fail.
Jesus said don’t resist or retaliate because these things make you a victim, and lead to hate, and to more evil. You are not a victim, because you are a child of God.
Jesus wants us to love one another as children of God. Jesus said, “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”
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
This doesn’t mean that you are always obedient, and never do any wrong. It means that you are reconciled to your unconscious self.
Our heavenly Father is perfect because he has no conflicts within himself. He is not at war with a side of himself that is pulling him down. He is perfectly integrated.
This is what he wants for us. Children are not in conflict with their inner selves. They simply are who they are. They have no hidden agenda. Their lives are open books.
This is how our Father wants us to be. He wants us to love him, and to accept him as our Father. He wants us to love each other, and to forgive each other. He wants us to resist the Devil who wants to drag us down, and wants us project our problems onto others.
He wants us to pray for those who would hurt us, that they too might become children of God.
He wants us to let the Spirit of Christ dwell within us so that we can be perfect, just as he is perfect. We cannot do any of this without the Spirit of Christ living in us. It may be impossible for humans to act this way, but with God, nothing is impossible. Amen.