He said some things that are hard to understand, harder to follow, and completely profound. Listen to this message!
Read contributing writer, Dan Doyle’s, forth piece in his series about the Sermon on the Mount. If you missed the previous installments, please read Part I, Part II, or Part III now.
Sermon on the Mount: Part IV
“But I say to you who are listening. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly. To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too, to the man who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you. Treat others as you would like them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good for you, what thanks can you expect? For even sinners do that much. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what thanks can you expect. Even sinners lend to sinners to get back the same amount. Instead, love your enemies and do good, and lend without any hope of return. You will have a great reward, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
Notice first the opening sentence of this passage. It is the prerequisite for moving on to the rest of it. Listen! This is something we give a lot of lip service to, but we, more often than not, fail to do it, especially when what we are hearing bothers us. And this passage can not help but bother us. Everything in this paragraph seems to fly in the face of logic. Nothing here makes any kind of sense to us. It seems crazy in the logic of the world.
One way to try to understand something that is very difficult is to try to look at it from a different perspective. An unspoken question here is, “What would the world be like if more of us were acting in accord with these prescriptives? Another is, “Why would Jesus suggest these things to us if He didn’t believe we were capable of doing them?
These few phrases are shocking. They catch us up. Jesus is truly presenting us with a new idea of the world. Love your enemies? Do good to those who hate you? Pray for those who hurt you badly? Our very hearts cry out, NO! We want justice for the wrongs done to us. We want the guilty to pay for what they have done to us.
But if you are listening, Jesus is telling us exactly what He has done and is doing still today. He loved us even though we had made ourselves His enemies by defying His commandments. He came into the world as one of us, to do good for us, even though we hated him with our prideful demands. He prayed for us on the Cross, bearing all of our sins on his nailed hands and feet, saying, “Forgive then, Father, for they know not what they do.” He has modeled every action he speaks of in this passage with his own life.
Jesus gave up his cloak and his tunic. He held on to nothing, not even His life in the supreme act of selfless, unconditional love for us, for each and every one of us. From Adam and Eve to me, we have all sinned against God and each other in countless ways, yet he turns his cheek. He lent us His life without hoping for some temporary, material reward in return. Indeed not even for our love. He leaves us free to respond in kind, or to continue on in our sinful ways.
What He models to us in His words and in His actions is our truest nature, that nature of ours which is made in the image and likeness of God, which we all too often have turned away from through our pride, greed, jealousy, anger, lust, gluttony and sloth.
But He has His saints to show us that it is possible too. They are real men and women who have lived their lives in the ways that Jesus describes in this passage. If we, too, turn to Him and ask Him for the grace to live according to the words of the Sermon on the Mount, He will give us the grace to begin the journey. He will be with us when we fail, and when we pick ourselves back up again. And He will be waiting with open arms to greet us at the end of our pilgrimage on this earth. Listen! Thanks be to God!SKM: below-content placeholder