February 19, 2017
Introduction: Many of us have been taught that we should seek and end. Whether that end is finishing our education, getting married and settling down, getting the job we always wanted, or retiring. The focus is on always seeking some final conclusion. Even in our spiritual lives we look toward an end such as getting into heaven. Today Jesus challenges our assumption that we should seek an end. Instead he invites us to see life as a journey. This in turn reminded me of a teacher who stated, “if you do not enjoy the process you will in all likelihood not enjoy the end result.”
I) We are concluding our discussion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, though in fact this teaching will continue for another two chapters. We began with the Beatitudes, discussed being the salt and light of the earth, examined how Jesus understands the commandments not as something to be done away with but in fact making even more stringent. Now we come to the most difficult portion of his teaching. We are to be willing to endure persecution and to even love those who persecute us!
II) One might conclude that these demands Jesus is making upon his disciples are not demands at all, merely trying to get us out of our comfortable thinking about God. Or in other words, ‘can Jesus really be serious’? This issue is addressed at the end of this reading when Jesus urges us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect! Even here we may be tempted to think that Jesus does not really mean this for how can we ever live up to the perfection of God!?
III) Instead of trying to make this into some kind of metaphor for how we ought to behave, I believe we need to take Jesus seriously. He is certainly not trying to down play evil. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his letters from prison does in fact talk about the evil all around him. That does not prevent him from caring for his fellow prisoners and even for the guards! We must also note that he took evil extremely seriously and decided to participate in the plot to murder Adolph Hitler, even though he believed murder to be wrong and because of that, believed God would condemn him for participating in such as act. If we take seriously the proclamation that we are to love our enemies and not just our neighbor just what does this mean? Jesus points out that even the lowest of the low, tax collectors love those who love them. He holds us to a higher standard, one that we should even love those who persecute us. A dear friend descried how his own mother was led off to her death in a British internment camp in Kenya. I was astounded that instead of being overcome with bitterness for these his enemies, he found a way to love them through forgiveness. His secret, I believe, was the ability to have compassion for everyone, even those who did him and his family incredible harm.