By Rev Angela C Bosfield Palacious
Matthew 5:43-44 leaves no doubt in our mind the position that Jesus Christ holds on the subject: “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.”
We are challenged to consider whether our behaviour differs from that of the non-Christian. If we only love those who love us or greet those who greet us, then what are we doing more than other people? We definitely have to do more and be more as Christians: “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 5:45-48 NIV).
It is not an easy thing to forgive and choose to love. Sometimes it is a matter of feeling compassion for the person who chooses to act in this manner. At other times, it is a question of non-violent resistance as modelled by Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, the proverbial “turning the other cheek”. It is about refusing to enter into a power struggle as dictated by the other person: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5: 38-42 NIV)
In order to live this type of exemplary life, we have to ensure that our foundation is based on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. We can only boast of what he has done for us and not believe that we can do this on our own. If we are to continue to build the kingdom of God, then we have to operate with love, care and compassion: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-23 NIV)
This is why we have to love our enemies. It is proof that we are different and that God is in control of our lives. In fact, this is the most compelling and convincing truth. It is a lifetime goal to live a life of love and to speak of God’s grace and power: “Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvellous deeds. Even when I am old and grey, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” (Psalm 71:17-18 NIV).
We are called to be holy: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’” (Leviticus 19:1-2 NIV). The list in Leviticus reads like an expanded version of the last six of the Ten Commandments: no reaping to the edges, no stealing, lying, deceiving others, robbing or endangering the life of neighbours, no withholding of wages, cursing the deaf or tripping the blind, no perverting justice, slandering others, and no seeking revenge or bearing a grudge: “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God. ‘Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another. ‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. Do not defraud or rob your neighbour. Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight. Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord. Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly. Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life. I am the Lord. Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord. Keep my decrees.” (Leviticus 19:9-18 NIV)
If we make our neighbours into enemies, then we cannot evangelise them. Let our daily prayer be the collect (prayer) for the Seventh Sunday in Epiphany: “O Lord you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing. Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts the greatest, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.”
As hard as it is, we really have no choice as Christians but to love our enemies.
• Rev Angela Palacious, a motivational speaker and author of several devotional books, is an Anglican priest. She may be contacted at 393-9000 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.