The Reading: Matthew 5:43-48
“Love your enemies and pray for (them)” (v.44) RSV
The Sermon on the Mount makes very uncomfortable reading. In this week’s portion we read of Jesus quoting what was being taught in his day: “Hate your enemy” (v.43). The religion of his time was based on justice and fair play, otherwise known as “an eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Matthew 5:38). This had been a vast improvement over the days before Moses, when retaliation could far exceed the original crime. It was more like, a life for a tooth! Moses was therefore improving the situation by inculcating fairness and parity.
Jesus was now raising the benchmark again. No longer was justice the way people should live, but instead there should be mercy. This was the way God treated humans. If we were dependant on his justice then we would all be lost. But because of his love, mercy and grace we are forgiven and restored. “Whilst we were yet sinners (i.e. enemies of God) Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In other words we did not deserve it; it was the grace of God.
Since God has so loved us, we are now required to do the same. It is comparatively easy to love someone who loves us; it is far harder to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (v.44). Yes, our loving God is requiring us to love all people – not all people in general, but each person in particular!
This love is sadly not natural to most of us. There comes a point, sooner or later, when our love runs out. This is why we first need to have experiences and receive the love of God. Was it not Mary who anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive ointment, who was told, “She loves much because she has been forgiven much (Luke 7:47)? When we know that we are loved (despite not deserving it) then we will find the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts” (Romans 5:5). The fruit of the Spirit is “love” (Galatians 5:22). Only God can teach us to love the unlovely from our hearts.
Lord, I want to be more like Jesus. Fill me with your abounding love, that I may show that love to others. Amen.
1 How does Peter say we are to love our enemy?
2 How much does God love you?