A study on the Sermon on the Mount has bought me to a startling command from Jesus. Most of us are familiar with the “love your neighbor” teachings, as well as the “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” part, but I had really not noticed how this section ends. Take a look at verse 48:
Matthew 5 (NIV)
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the gentiles do the same?
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Do you think that is even possible? To be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect? That seems like a big ask.
Jesus relates this to the instructions to love and pray for our enemies for a reason. Imagine what the world would be like if we took that one verse to heart and truly did strive every day to love people who hate us. And we know that when we pray for people who persecute us, that prayer changes US.
In researching a sermon on this passage, I stumbled upon these wise words from Thomas Merton, an American Trappist Monk. Merton wrote over 50 books on spirituality, faith, comparative religion, and theology.
“Do not be too quick,” he wrote, “to assume that your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are a savage. Or perhaps he is afraid of you because he feels you are afraid of him. And perhaps if he believed you were capable of loving him, he would no longer be your enemy.
Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy precisely because he can find nothing in you that gives glory to God. Perhaps he fears you because he can find nothing in you of God’s love and God’s kindness and God’s patience and mercy and understanding of the weakness of men.
Do not be too quick to condemn the man who no longer believes in God. For it is perhaps your own coldness and avarice and mediocrity and materialism and sensuality and selfishness that have killed his faith.”
There is much to ponder here. Do you have an enemy? Do you love that person? Can you pray for that person?
When we focus on this kind of accepting and grace filled agape love, we indeed move the needle a little closer to the perfection of the Heavenly Father. One thing is certain … we will surely never achieve it if we don’t even try.