You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV)
We come to the last part of the teaching contained in Matthew 5. Jesus speaks about a topic that his hearers could relate to, but which is given a twist by him. As with the other topics considered in Matthew 5, Jesus challenges his hearers by making what he asks them to do difficult. There is nothing easy about following Jesus!
Those listening to Jesus (and probably us as well) would have been happy if Jesus had left it at ‘love your neighbour’. Remember that in the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus speaks about who a true neighbour is. The crowd would not have expected him to ask them to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them. Remember that at the time the Romans were an occupying force and to those listening it would seem like Jesus is saying ‘Love the Romans and pray for them’. How could he possibly expect them to love their enemies?
Jesus is confronting them with the more difficult path that his followers must take. Look again at Jesus’ words. He says:
‘… what are you doing more than others?’
If you only do what everyone else is doing it is not enough. As with everything in the Christian life, God expects us to live in a distinctive way that challenges the world’s standards.
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