If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.Matthew 5:46-48
There are multiple places in the Sermon on the Mount, which show what God wanted God’s people to look like and act like in a life centered on being God’s disciples. This passage is evidence of one of those places. Phrases like “even corrupt tax collectors do that,” and “how are you different from anyone else,” and “even pagans do that,” and “you must be perfect,” show that God has great plans for us.
In the case of this text, Jesus is raising the bar on love. It is standard operating procedure in the world to love those who love you and to greet only one’s brothers and sisters. Jesus’ instruction for us is to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Who does that?
In the world we give people the cold shoulder, wish terrible harm on them, gossip about them, and take them to court. It’s the American way or the Italian way, or the Russian way…. You get the idea.
Jesus invites us to plunge feet-first into a mish mash of people – friends, enemies, people we don’t particularly like, and people who irritate the tar out of us. Jesus does not give us an option of opting out of this messy, unpleasant task. “Get yourself dirty,” he seems to say. “Dirty with loving these people, serving these people, and praying for these people, no matter who they are.
How else will people learn about the Kingdom of God if we resign from this task? What excuses do we have that qualify us to creep off into our own little corner where it is safe? It changes, drastically, the way we think about our lives if we think about the difference it will make in someone/s life if we withdraw from them. If we kick them out. If we elect to be uninvolved.
Jesus did not ever say that this would be easy work. It isn’t. At the end of the day, you will emerge beaten, dirty, and maybe even revulsed by what you experience, but its the only way this work can be done.
Jesus reminds us that if we withdraw and only love those who are pleasant to us, we are no different than any other person on the globe. “You must be perfect,” is Jesus’ uncomfortable reply to us.
Prayer: O Jesus, you left your perfect home to take your residence among us. You did this knowing that it would cause you to suffer and eventually give up your life. How can we, then, make excuses for our lives and pretend that opting out is ever a possibility for us? Please convict us. Fill us with the love that propelled you to live for us. In your name we pray this. Amen.