Love Your Enemies
Jesus said to the disciples:] 38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so 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. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In my lifetime I’ve worked on a concrete crew pouring cement and I worked as a flunky for a carpenter, who when time was of the essence and the situation was desperate allowed me to pound an occasional nail.
I’ve always marveled at the skill and the ability of folks in the building trades. There are two such trades that amaze me the most: stonemasons and bricklayers.
Whenever I am able to watch a stonemason or a bricklayer I am mesmerized by what they do. How a stonemason fits one stone on to another, the mortar, the tapping, the ability to choose and shape the right stone in a pattern that is only in the mind of the mason. From cap stone to finish, they are amazing. And how a bricklayer can place bricks in a line, stagger them, and make a wall that is straight and strong.
Both the stonemason and the bricklayer deal with laying the proper foundation. They do what Paul talks about in the 1 Corinthians when he says these words about what the Christian faith is all about.
“According to the grace of God given to me, like a master builder I laid a foundation.”
Without a foundation, without something to build upon, we can’t properly structure a Christian faith or life.
The first stone, the first brick, the first layer of belief is what is important. The foundation helps to make everything else work. If it’s not right, then what follows will always be slightly out of plumb, out of sync with who we are and what we would like to become.
For centuries, the world has been divided into two large groups. One who deals with and practices the law of vengeance; and the other who practices response to evil with love and forgiveness.
Most often, we all like the law of vengeance. We live “an eye for eye and tooth for a tooth existence.” It is not stated explicitly, but it’s part of competition in the work force and it’s part of our fascination with sports. We want to beat the other person or the other team at all costs.
Think about these athletic rivalries. In Kansas, pro football gets a lot of attention and the rivalries are what drives the machine. There is heightened tension and pressure when the Chiefs play the Raiders or Broncos. It’s almost as if the other games don’t matter, just the games we play against our biggest rivals.
We want vengeance when we lose. The law of vengeance is very real in our daily lives. Some one hurts us we want to hurt back. It’s simple and it is direct. It is the law of Moses: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
Jesus turns the law of vengeance upside down in the concluding words of the Sermon on the Mount.
“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one also; if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. …Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
When we hear these words most of us say, “Yeah, right! It’ll be a cold day when I turn the other cheek. I need my coat and my cloak. I don’t want to go one mile, let alone two. I don’t trust people who are begging. And I’ll be doggoned if I will pray for my enemies after what they have done to me.”
Yet, the Sermon on the Mount lays a foundation. The foundation is Jesus Christ and the foundation is one of love and forgiveness. It is the Son of God for others. The first stone and the first brick in our life of faith is just that: love and forgiveness. That’s what Jesus has done for us and that is what Jesus asks us to do for others.
This is tough stuff.
This is where, as they say, the rubber meets the road. This is about every day ordinary life. This is about a playing field where it truly isn’t about winning or losing, but rather it is about how you play the game of life as a Christian.
What about the line in Matthew 5:48 – “Be perfect therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
I have fought being a perfectionist all my life. I am my greatest critic. Nothing is ever good enough. I’m less hard on others.
But what does it mean to be perfect and why is this word at the end of our Gospel lesson?
Karoline Lewis, in her blog this week makes this observation, as she looks at the Greek word that is translated to the word ‘perfect’.
She writes, “Yes, it can be translated as ‘perfect’ but meanings that better capture its essence are “completion, intended goal, determined end.”
In other words she concludes, Jesus is not asking us to be perfect, but to persist in the goal Jesus has for us. The goal is the foundation of the faith itself. Love your enemies, practice forgiveness and love the essence of the kingdom of God.
What kind of foundation has been laid in your life?
Which law do you follow: the law of vengeance or the law of love and forgiveness?
Are the bricks and mortar of who you straight and strong?
Can you turn the other cheek?
Can you give to the poor?
Can you pray for your enemies?
This is the kingdom of God. That’s what Jesus asks of us. No more, no less. Only to be children of the heavenly Father who loves us.
God’s kind of perfection.
Pastor Michael Brecke