Fred Craddock tells the story of going “marveling” on Sunday afternoons growing up as a child. He and his family would take a walk around their neighborhood and town and discover “marvelous things” like 4-leaf clovers, unusual rocks, crooked trees, super-big leaves and so on. If able, they would take their treasures home with them to display for all to see their marvelous things. (Today it would be uploaded to Pinterest and Facebook!) When was the last time you were able to do that – to go looking with purpose, to go marveling? It won’t be long before our surroundings begin to put on color – marvelous color. The Bible is a lot like going “marveling”. There is always something new to discover every time we plan to take a journey in it and with it!
Matthew’s Gospel is organized around the major teachings of Jesus. Every time Jesus taught, he addressed the lifestyle (ethic) of a believer (Christian) and Jesus confronted the “accepted norm” of faithful living in his day that still challenges our 21st century understanding of how Christians are to live and think and act and love in the secular world. Our series of messages through October is titled: He Said What?!! And each week we will look at the challenging and absurd teachings of Jesus regarding the Christian’s relational faith practice. The essence of Christian ethics is overcoming evil with good. We have already considered Jesus’ command to reconcile our anger and to turn the other cheek. Today let’s look at his command to love our enemies.
When I was about 7, I received my most stern rebuke and correction from my parents. We were out shopping and a saw friend of theirs. I was shy in those days and when the person spoke to me I hid behind mom without speaking. Later, they told me my actions were rude and unacceptable behavior. When spoken to by another person, politely look them in the eye and speak back. It’s hard sometimes to know how to relate to others especially if we don’t know them. I think this is true whether you are 7, 11, 21 or 95! It can be hard to talk to those you don’t know. This is partly what Jesus is teaching in The Sermon On The Mount – how do we deal with others: friends, neighbors, strangers and even enemies. Last week we recall his message to not retaliate, but show mercy, grace and compassion and love to one’s enemy. This is radical thinking! It is also against the grain of every listener’s ears.
In every section of teaching in The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins the same way, “You have heard it said…” (MT 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43). Some of us can translate that as: “When I was a kid”, “Back in the olden days” or now, “Back in the day”. Whatever phrase fits, Jesus is telling them then, and us now, that there is a new way to look at things, a new understanding, a new practice of dealing with others and it starts with divine love: agape. Don’t just love your neighbors (another Jew), but love your enemies, don’t hate them. In fact, Jesus tells us to pray for them. How is that for marveling in the scriptures today? Love the people you thought you were supposed to hate. The first names on our daily prayer list should be enemies, adversaries and foes!
Jesus tells us that if we only love those who love us back, we are like any other group; we are like unbelievers, even the lowliest of humanity – a dreaded tax collector! Jesus reminds us that God’s grace is not withheld, but extended to every person in the form of rain, sunshine, harvest, etc. Why? John 3:16 reminds us that God so loved ALL the world… No one is outside of God’s offer of forgiveness and new life. God’s plan of evangelism is to love others genuinely, not strong arming them into believing or to make them get better before they can come home. Jesus tells us in this passage that love and prayer is the best way to reveal Christ.
What person or group in your life today would you consider an enemy or adversary? Can we discover Jesus’ invitation to love them rather than hate them? Can we come to a place where we see others not as enemies, but as those who need to be the center of our prayers? Can we totally change our vision and see them as God does: a person who needs to receive the life changing, forgiving and reconciling grace of God through Jesus Christ? The two persons executed in the New Testament, Jesus and Stephen, both offered the exact same prayer for those who were killing them: “Father, forgive them.” (LK 23:42 & Acts 7:60)
Praying for an enemy/adversary does two things: 1) It asks God to work in the life of that person and bring about transforming change. And 2) It changes us. We cannot continuously pray for someone and hate them at the same time. In fact, the more we pray for others and the longer we continue to pray for another helps us to see that person differently – because God allows us to see them as God does. This is when our spiritual marveling begins! This is when reconciliation becomes our divine gift. Elizabeth Barbee quoted Martin Luther King in her message this past Wednesday where King said, “Love is the only thing that can make enemies friends.” I would add, that Jesus’ divine love working through us is capable of doing anything for God’s glory!
Jesus concludes with, “Be perfect as God is perfect.” (verse 48) The Greek word can mean to be complete, mature or grown up. In other words, Jesus is telling us that it is time to grow up spiritually; to think and act like God (who is already a grown up) thinks and acts! This is what my parents were helping me to learn years ago when speaking to adults: grow up.
Who is your adversary? Who are those you despise or hate? Let’s pray for those persons every day this week, and next week and so on. Let’s trust the Holy Spirit to help us to show love to those we may not feel like showing love to. And just see how God will work in and through our prayers. Someone once said that true love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction! If we did, just imagine how our seeing others, and everything the way Jesus sees them can change everything!