An Eye for An Eye
This passage is part of what we have come to know in Christian circles as the Sermon on the Mount. One could study this whole discourse for the rest of one’s life for it articulates the tectonic shift in human thinking that came about because of the Incarnation. Jesus takes the teachings of the world and turns them upside-down throughout this whole section of Matthew. Luke records it too. What he says seems to be crazy in reference to the wisdom of the world. Love your enemies? Pray for those who persecute you? Why? “That you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Well there is a lot to consider here. We get the love your neighbor thing. We have no problem understanding the wisdom of loving those that we are closest to in our families, our neighborhoods, and so on, all the way up to the love of country. Such love is good for the continuity of family, for the comfort and natural security of the neighborhood, etc. It provides stability and encouragement. It brings about a general attitude of goodwill. But sometimes that “love” creates barriers too. It sometimes makes us think in terms of “Us v. Them.” It can sometimes take the form of prejudices against all those who are not the same as us. Still, love of the neighbor is good for the well-being of a community.
But this love of the enemy idea goes beyond our usual thinking. Too often when we are injured by another, we start to see them as an “enemy” and we get drawn emotionally into the old way of thinking, that is, the “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth” mentality. This never brings about a solution to the problem, and certainly provides little hope for reconciliation. More often than not, that kind of behavior leads to further deterioration of any hope for rapprochement. When we get caught up in this way of thinking, we lose sight of the other as having any value. And, ironically, we become a victim of our own emotions. Indeed, we may even become a “persecutor” in need of conversion.
Hate is like a cancer. It destroys both the hater and the hated. Jesus is giving us the wisdom of God in this passage. He is extending his commandment to love one another to both the enemy and the persecutor here. As Christians we are to be people of creation, not destruction. Why? First, if we want to truly call ourselves disciples of Christ, and to live and act as children of God, we must imitate the example of the Father that was shown to us in Jesus. As we are told, “for he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (verse 45) Jesus’ admonition to us to pray for those who persecute us is unique in relation to any other wisdom or faith that has gone before, or come after Jesus. In the end, the wisdom here is that the only thing that heals a broken relationship, or changes the heart of a persecutor, is love. Hate cannot do this. As Christians we are called to move away from the old ways of revenge, and into the new ways of the Gospel of Unconditional Love. Only love could redeem the world, forgive all of human sin, and conquer death. That was true then and it is still just as true today.
Lord, help us in this difficult, yet ultimately powerful effort to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. We know that it is the truth, but sometimes the truth hurts. We know that this truth will set us free, but we are weak and in need of your grace. We trust in your mercy, Lord. Help us to be people of love and mercy as you have commanded us. We pray this prayer believing in the promise of the holy name of Jesus. Amen!
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