Whether or not we say it often, and whether or not we like to preach on it, Jesus proclaims to deaf ears… “Love your enemies.” I believe wholeheartedly that this is the most profound and unsettling of all of Jesus’ teachings. However, it is also the logical conclusion of them.
Remember, this is the same Jesus that says the greatest commandment is to love God with everything, and to love your neighbor as yourself, extending neighbor to include everybody. It strikes me that in this passage Jesus isn’t asked what the TWO greatest commandments are, but he gives them both. The general consensus is that this is because the two commandments are inextricably linked. I want to take it a step further. I think for Jesus, these are the same commandment.
Think about it. Why is it that if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us? It’s almost as if this same channel of forgiveness that flows from God to us and from us to others, and if we close it at one end, it becomes closed off entirely, not by God’s choice but by our own.
The most powerful example is when Jesus says that when he was thirsty you gave to him to drink, when he was hungry you fed him, and when he was naked you clothed him, and the disciples ask him, “When did we see you like this?” And Jesus replies, “Whatever you do for the least of these you have done unto me.”
It seems that for Jesus, loving God and loving others are not just intertwined, they’re the same thing. This is what John is getting at when he says, “Beloved, let us love another, for love is God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God for God is love.”
John understood very well that our love for others IS our love for God. They’re not things you work on separately. It is the same love.
And if we are called to love God and others in this way, and that love is extended to everyone, the first question we all have is, “Does that really mean everyone? Everyone??” And I think the purpose of our first passage is for Jesus to answer that question: “Yep. Everyone.” The passage goes on to explain that God is this way, that God causes the sun and the rain to come on the righteous and unrighteous. Let’s not misunderstand here: rain, in Jesus’ time, was not associated with sadness and depression like it is in our culture. Rain, in an agricultural society, was imperative, it was celebrated. People had entire pagan cults to worship gods who they thought could bring rain. So this passage is not saying that God causes good and bad upon good and bad people, it is saying that God causes all kinds of good for all kinds of people.
And I think it’s no surprise that Matthew ends this passage with “Be perfect”. This is the hardest, most-radical and counter-cultural teaching of Jesus in this Sermon and probably ever. At the heart of this teaching is the conviction that how we love our enemies is the same as how we love God.
I wonder if we really only love God as much as we love our worst enemy.
And we all fall short of that, and God’s grace meets us at the point of our failure. But we strive for perfection, believing that in the end, sacrificial, radical, pervasive love ALWAYS wins.