Last weeks powder keg continues this week in part three of a group of texts which belong together. They form the chiastic (“cross” or “X”) structure of oral tradition which explain the beatitude: “Blessed are the Pure in Heart (Kardia/mindset/intellect-not emotions), for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8) The refusal of the oath, the refusal to retaliate belong with loving our enemy because they require an intervention, a change of course, within our thinking.
These passages all dovetail into the “tonic note” which is commonly misunderstood, for obvious reasons. It reads as follows:
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
We’ll get to the meaning of this, but first I’m going to start with the wider context. Try to simply hear the words and notice any “gut reactions” that come up. Those are the pivot points within the Kardia.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons (and daughters) of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
This is now the sixth “But I say to you…” Today is the hardest one yet to believe. Are you kidding Jesus, you want me to LOVE MY ENEMY? Most of us cannot even fathom this. Not personally, not locally, and not globally. The idea is so foreign to our hard hearts that we all assume Jesus must mean something else. He doesn’t. He intends to remove the scales form our eyes. I’ll do my best to do the same.
Loving our enemy means forfeiting the thing that stands between us. Love cannot actually have an enemy. In Romans 5:10, Paul talks (~60 years later) about how Christ would reconcile all of humanity to God, “while we were enemies, while we were still sinners, for the ungodly.” Of course during this sermon, Jesus’ death on the cross had not yet taken place, so Jesus is making a huge statement. He saying, in the same way God is reconciling all humanity back to himself through me, so you in like manner, must reconcile others to yourself. God is not holding a grudge against us, therefore neither should we toward others.
Jesus is proposing we begin by seeing others as ourself, not as an enemy, in other words, love them as God loves you. Don’t skim over this. Once again we are back to the golden rule.
“Love your enemies … so that you may be sons (and daughters) of your Father who is in heaven.“
The form of love Jesus uses is agapé, it’s the kind of love God has for all humanity. It’s unmerited, its unconditional, it never ends, and it cannot be avoided, and it can never be lost because it’s not just an attribute of God it is the very nature of who God is. Jesus is revealing God to a world whose theology had run amuck. God was distant, angry, punitive, retributive and needed to be placated with animal killing and religious performance. Jesus is saying, in the same way that God knows your backstory and loves you anyway, so you can offer that love to others. Theologically speaking, God cannot really have an enemy, the idea anthropomorphizes God.
This is why the typical Heaven/Hell binary is so problematic for me. It suggests that God requires us to love our enemies when he himself is unwilling to do the same. Somehow we humans are supposed to love people we think are horrible, but God isn’t able to do it and just punishes horrible people. Paul’s passage along with this one proves otherwise. We are to love our enemy, because that is precisely what God does, it is precisely who God is. It’s how we are defined by God (sons and daughters).
Praying for those who persecute you is how we release others to God from our insistence on judging them. Praying will be explored more in the next section, but it causes us to see them as ourself, to see them as the broken, wounded, and confused child they truly are, just like us. Like forfeiting an oath, or forfeiting retaliation, now we forfeit our judgement upon others, and that transforms every enemy into a brother or sister. Love disarms the enemy. Hate is not the enemy of love, hate is loving only in part-it’s loving only those like ourselves which Jesus warns against. He is showing us that the goal is not to “overpower” the enemy, but to subvert their power with love.
The “sun shining on the good and evil” along with “the rain falling on the just and unjust” should dislodge any bad Old Testament theology where God is only blessing some and punishing others. Modern religion is often promoting this idea that God only works in favor of those on his team. It’s an idea that is embedded in the religious mind like scar tissue around gauze; extraction from it is a surgical endeavor. God shows no favoritism or partiality (Romans 2:11). Jesus draws on this point in Luke 13:2 “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” Clearly the first act of love, especially towards your enemy, is to not look down on them, judge them, or think you are somehow better off than they are. This elitist attitude is a common stench that must be deconstructed from systems of faith.
Another way of seeing this is to consider that the love of God is actually sustaining us during our very worst moments. If we pull back and really examine our own back story, we realize that God has been loving each breath into us even when we did the most horrible things. His beneficence towards us is not based upon tribe, religion, or merit. It makes no difference how you label yourself or whether you want or disdain the love of God. It is nonetheless graciously given to all humanity equally. “There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ” (Romans 8:38-39). No one is an enemy when viewed through love. It’s impossible. And that is how God sees everyone. YES EVERYONE! Jesus is showing how love IS restorative justice, not retributive justice. That is why it works on enemies.
Now to the “tonic” note of this passage.
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
I say this is the tonic note because it is a vital theme in the previous chapter, but it is also a transition clause for the following chapters which encompass this sermon.
Our common framework is to view the command to “be perfect” as a behavior score card. People are obviously not perfect, so if this seems like an odd or impossible command it is because it has been misunderstood.
The command is to “BE” (téleios/ genuine, complete, authentic, mature, adult, initiated, perfect). With this text, Jesus has now reframed several religious laws about moral performance and moved them inside to a place of inner being. Rather than murder, be someone who doesn’t name call. Instead of adultery, be someone who overrides lust in the heart, instead of retaliation, instead of loving only you neighbor, be someone who loves their enemy. Religion has lost the culture war because it became the shaming, guilting, schoolmarm instead of the beacon lighting the way toward a bigger humanity. Teaching people “what to do” prevents the rise of consciousness into “how to be.” Morality is always first about inner maturity, not external compliance. This will be developed in the subsequent chapters. We can’t “do” perfect, but we can “be” authentic.
Be real. Be authentic. Be only your true self. Not the persona that pleases some institution. Why? Because that is WHO your spiritual (heavenly) father IS. You be, as your maker IS. God is not just real, God is REALITY itself. Being authentic then is BEING one with REALITY. It’s “forgiving” reality for being what it is. It’s receiving each moment as not missing anything. Being perfect then is not compliance, it is the compulsion to join love right here right now within the reality that is showing up as our very life. This is true inner freedom. It’s the freedom from the oppression of hate.
We cannot love our enemy because we still haven’t grown up enough to realize that our enemy is just like us. Our sibling rivalries have more elaborate plot lines but are equally immature. The enemy is an ad hominem argument for the binary mindset which further perpetuates otherness disease within our out of tune souls. The solution is to realize (awaken) to Love and what Love has done for us. We are made out of love, from love and for love. Beloved is our true name. Once woke enough to glimpse this, we are forever compelled to be likewise to others. This is the greatest truth in the history of spirituality and all world religions.
“Love God and love others as we would love ourselves.” It should not surprise us to discover that the end of our enemy is the beginning of our true self transparently grounded in God. Enemies are the measurement of how deep we have taken this truth into our souls. If we get real with ourselves, our enemies disappear.