Hating our enemies.
“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 sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 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, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
– a reading from the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 5, verses 38 through 48, English Standard Version
There is an anxiety in the world that troubles a great many people. We are anxious about so many things. troubles in the world’s economies. Political unrest. Many, like me feel a heavy concern about the worldly ways of thinking and acting that have been set free in so many Christian parishes in recent years.
In the midst of all of this anxiety, it is a relief to come into the Lord’s presence. Though, through the two stories of retaliation and love of our enemies that appear in the reading above, it appears that the Lord is not so much relieving us, but is increasing the stress! Jesus will not permit us to retaliate when our enemies attack us. This seems to imply that his followers are to behave as doormats for the world’s bullies! He insists that we love our enemies, limiting the satisfaction we experience when we are able to triumph over them!
What is Jesus is trying to do to us with these two examples? He wants us to imitate the perfection of his Father. These seems to us to be a ideal that is impossible to achieve. We may be able to meet this ideal from time to time, but to live our whole lives this way seems to be to much to ask.
In the original Greek the word translated as “perfect” implies completion. There is only one Person in this world who is fully complete. That is God. For us, that completeness is seen most clearly in the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are brought into that completion through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.
The Lord God had created his people to be in a full relationship with him and one another. With the fall into sin, however, that reality was marred. Propelled by the desire to have everything revolving around the self, man began to neglect his responsibility toward others and became more and more self seeking. When thwarted in ambition, men learned how to strike out and hurt others, even to oppress their fellow men. To keep from being harmed or oppressed themselves, men developed abilities to retaliate against their enemies. In the fallen world we live in that seems the only way to protect one’s self. As men became more at home in that sort of thinking though , the Lord’s intent for our relationship with him and one another began to seem more and more a like a naïve dream.
Enmity did not exist in God‘s intent for creation. We were created for relationships of unceasing love that radiate out from God Himself. After the fall though, sin’s realities, changed how everything appeared. Love now is something that is only shared with friends. And even then only fitfully. For most people, hatred of one’s enemies is seen a “natural“ state of things. The more that we allow ourselves to be shaped by these distorted views of reality, the more that our relationship with our Lord and Savior is diminished.
In the passage above Jesus is reintroducing us to our true nature, as God created us to be. We have not been baptized into Christ so we can retaliate against others whenever we are crossed. We are called to reflect the light of Christ to them. We were not baptized into Christ so we can show hatred and contempt toward our enemies. We are to allow the forgiveness we have ourselves received to pass through us to all the people with whom we come into contact. Our lives have been made complete in the death, burial and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. ‘ It is not our own work that brought this about, but it was His forgiveness.
In the middle of the world’s anxiety it is good to remember that, “the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” (1 Corinthians 3.19-20)