Years ago, I was a manager in one of the departments of my denomination’s General Offices. The management culture was extremely heavy-handed, though not all supervisors were that way. One day I got a new supervisor who seemed to deliberately make my life a daily torment.
As the situation grew worse some of my supporters told me, ‘God will take care of him someday.’ I responded, ‘No he won’t; God will forgive him.’ And because I knew God would forgive him—I forgave him. Despite what he was doing to me, I wanted to see him as God sees him.
You Have Heard; But I Say…
For the fifth time in his teaching session, Jesus countermands an Old Testament commandment.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor 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.
Jesus refers to Leviticus chapter 19:
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.
We know Jesus does not object to the first half of the statement ‘Love your neighbor’ because he uses it in chapter 22 to establish the great guiding principle of loving others. The second half of the statement ‘Hate your enemy’ is not found in the Old Testament, but there are passages that suggest it.
Deuteronomy chapter 7 says about Israel’s enemies:
When the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.
And the Psalmist writes in Psalm 139:
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord?
These passages and others led some Jews after the exile to hate outsiders. The Manual of Discipline of the Qumran community made it explicit.
What Does it Mean to Love One’s Enemy?
We know what it is like to love our family, our friends, or our significant other. Shared relationships and special feelings of fondness produce this love. How can we feel this fondness toward strangers or those we consider enemies?
We can’t. Jesus uses the word ‘agape’, which means to consider others kindly and have a practical concern for their well-being. It is the opposite of wishing them harm. In my situation described above, I wished my supervisor well but resigned my position.
Seeing People as the Father Sees Them
Jesus refutes the common attitude of hating enemies and gives his reason by adding: That you may be children of your Father in heaven who sends sun and rain on everyone. The point is not that the Father manipulates the weather but that he treats everyone fairly; and we should love our enemies so we can be like the Father who treats everyone the same way.
I am a child of the sixties—very much influenced by the culture of my youth, but in relating to others we should be children of the Father. We should see people as the Father sees them—even if they are our enemies.
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?
Tax collectors were viewed as greedy, predatory, and as collaborators with the Roman oppressors; they personified despicability. But though they treated others harmfully, they treated each other well. How are we any better if we do the same?
Greeting others is a sign of acceptance and often includes a wish for well-being, such as ‘Good day!’ But if we show acceptance and good will only to our own, how are we better than pagans? Instead, we should treat people as the Father treats them.
The Essence of Jesus’ Ethic
It is often said that this teaching is the essence of Jesus’ ethic, which means it should serve as the essence of our ethic as followers of Jesus.
Jesus concludes with this statement:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
This call to perfection stresses many people because we all know we fall short. But the word ‘τέλειοι’ (perfect) does not mean to be without imperfection—it signifies completeness. Perfection means we are gown-up or mature.
Be perfect as your Father is perfect applies to the entire teaching of Jesus on contrasts to legalism that we considered over the last few posts. Let us be mature in our relationships just as the Father is.
This is the final ‘You have heard’ statement in this group of Jesus’ teaching. Next time I will discuss what I learn from his teachings and ask for your evaluation of them as well.
I invite your comments and observations below.
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Have a great day! ~Tim