Jesus said to his disciples, ‘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? 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.’
Over the last two days we have reflected upon how our relationships with those around us, and with ourselves, impact upon our relationship with God. We have considered the challenge of Jesus’ instruction to do to others as you would have them do to you, and we have explored the meaning of reconciliation as a pre-cursor to meaningful worship. Today we are confronted with the biggest challenge of all: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
The fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, is the point where Jesus lays out a new way of living, a way that overturns much that feels instinctive, in order that we might share in the intimacy of his own relationship with God. The heart of today’s reading follows on from the counter-cultural Beatitudes and the readings of the last two days. The difference between those earlier words of scripture and the one we have today lies in the explicitly sacrificial nature of Jesus’ words.
Today, Jesus makes it clear that we should not be joining the religious leaders of his day in twisting his words to suit our own purposes. We should not be doing nice things to other people in the expectation of their doing nice things to us. The true Christian way is to love and pray for those who are our enemies and our persecutors.
Every day the Church prays for peace in this world and that the leaders of all nations might govern with wisdom and in a spirit of Christian love and service. Sadly, these prayers continue to be essential as nations and races continue to persecute one another. Sadly, those whose decisions affect the lives of others continue to base their decisions on greed, anger, pride and irrational hatred. Sadly, this is true in every country and not just in those under-developed and deprived parts of the world we can so easily look down upon. Sadly, this is true in local communities and families as well.
It is not easy to love and pray for our enemies. Feelings of hurt and resentment become embedded in our hearts. Whole generations allow past hurts to poison their view of life, and they pass that poison on to their descendants. Eventually we hear words of alienation and enmity coming from the mouths of those who have no idea of their origin, other than they heard them uttered by parents and grandparents.
Jesus’ saving message to humanity is one of forgiveness and love. We are all called to forgive and to love in his name. We are all called (that means those on both sides of any dispute) to pray for the grace to make our own contribution to achieving the world peace we pray for every day.
We are all called to do to others as we would have them do to us. We are all called to first be reconciled with those who are our brothers and sisters in the eyes of God. And, we are all called to love and pray for those who have not yet found Jesus’ way, those we so often cast as our enemies.