(Mt 5:43-48)

"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, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."

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Today we are presented with the last of the six contrasts in the Sermon on the Mount. Just like the first, this too is about love. Nowhere in the scripture does it say ‘you must hate your enemy’, but Jesus was given to making his point by means of emphatic contrasts. In the same way he says that no one can be his disciple without hating father and mother, which surely is to be understood as putting Christ before father and mother – if such a dreadful decision should occur – rather than as positively hating them. In any case, here Jesus is teaching that we must love all people unreservedly. The Old Testament law in Leviticus 19.18 had prescribed to love your neighbour as yourself. The word there used for ‘neighbour’ widens family love to include the whole people of God, but does not go beyond that. Here Jesus widens it further, to all the recipients of the Father’s rain, good and bad, honest and dishonest, so beyond the confines of the Chosen People. More sharply still, it flies in the face of all natural reciprocal relationships by laying down love of enemies. The Christian must make a point of initiating the breakdown of any enmity.
There are two further dimensions to this series of six corrections of the Mosaic Law. First, by putting unlimited love at the beginning and end of the series Matthew (and surely we must assume that Matthew in his Sermon on the Mount is the editor of Jesus’ thoughts) forms a sort of bracket which implies that love is the theme and common factor of all six corrections. Secondly, the series ends with the staggering demand, ‘you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect'. Luke, in his corresponding passage, applies this more narrowly: Be merciful as your Father is merciful. A similar demand is made only once in the whole of the Gospels, to the rich young man in Matthew, ‘if you will be perfect…’ How absolute this requirement of love is, however, is made plain at the Cross, where Jesus’ final word is ‘It is perfected/consummated’ .

HW

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