You Shall Love
‘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; 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? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In this fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus gives us a window into what loving our neighbor as ourselves looks like, and it’s not easy! Jesus says the familiar, “You have heard an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, but I say…” And that’s where Jesus starts to impart this vision of an alternative community, one that’s grounded in love, not revenge, not an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
We are called not just to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love our neighbor as ourselves, but to, yes, love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And then the passage ends, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Well, lest you throw up your hands and say perfection is a little bit beyond your reach, a helpful note on that. In her book, Amazing Grace (pages 55-57), Kathleen Norris makes the point that “perfect” in Jesus’ context is not the way that we hear it with our 21st century ears.
“Perfect” was better understood in Jesus’ day as moving toward completion, moving toward maturity. So that when we are called to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, we’re called to maturity where we give ourselves to others—loving our neighbor as ourselves; turning the other cheek; going the extra mile, and yes, even loving our enemies. Quaker Gene Hoffman says that an enemy is one whose story we haven’t heard. I believe Jesus asks each one of us not to get caught up in the preoccupations of our daily existence and miss the opportunities that God puts right in front of us to reach out, to touch hearts, to transform lives, to bring light and life and love and giving and hope and purpose to our lives. The core of Jesus’ message to us today is you shall love.
Collect for Saturday in the First Week of Lent
O God, by your Word you marvelously carry out the work of reconciliation: Grant that in our Lenten fast we may be devoted to you with all our hearts, and united with one another in prayer and holy love; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.