March 26, 2012: The Twenty-Ninth Day of Lent
March 26, 2012 § 1 Comment
“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 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” ~ Matthew 5.43-45 ~
This teaching marks the last time that we will hear Christ use the format of, “You have heard it said that ____, but I say to you, ____.” Christ saves the most challenging teaching for last; this teaching provides the basis for the previous teaching. The audience, having just heard Christ challenge them to be willing to give up their basic legal rights for the sake of peace, now hears an even more difficult command: to love one’s enemies.
Christ references Leviticus 19.18 here: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” Shelton points out that while there may not have been a specific command to hate ones enemies, such hatred was probably thought of as proper. Psalm 139.21, 22 gives an example of this: “Do I not hate those who hate Thee, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against Thee? I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies.” At the very least, Christ firmly challenges common understanding here.
Jesus links one’s place in the Kingdom of Heaven with the ability to love one’s enemies. This command goes along with Christ’s earlier teaching, in which he told his audience to rejoice when they suffered persecution! Not only are they to rejoice, but Christ commands them to love their persecutors as well. How can this be? Shelton helps to answer this question: “Loving forgiveness received from God required that loving forgiveness be given to others. As proof that this is God’s intent, Jesus relates that the Father sends needed sun and rain to both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (LinSNTC, pg. 161.)
The Kingdom of Heaven aims for redemption. God the Father, who rules, desires to draw all creation back to him. The citizens of the Kingdom, Christ’s followers, are to desire this as well and act accordingly; ultimately, this means responding to one’s adversaries in a remarkable way. The heart of the Father should live in the disciples of the Son, which means that the disciples will live out (and love out!) the heart of the Father for those who have not entered the Kingdom.
Again, the Kingdom of Heaven simply has a different set of realities. Peace and reconciliation are to be pursued. Christ challenges his disciples to have the heart of the Father: a heart of forgiveness and love.
Lord Christ, you know my heart. You know my gut response to being wronged. I ask to receive the heart of the Father – a heart of love, grace, and forgiveness. Amen.