This week we will be discussing Matthew 5:38-6:4 of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Verses 5:38-48 may contain the two hardest sayings in the New Testament. Within these verses we are confronted with the Christian law of non-retribution and the commandment to love and pray for our enemies. These two teachings end with the admonition that “therefore, you must be perfect as your Father in heaven in perfect.”
On three different occasions the law of Moses requires “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Ex. 21:24, Lev. 24:20, Deut. 19:21. The meaning of these provisions is that retribution and justice should be proportional. If someone merely injures you, you are not allowed to kill him. Proportional justice is the teaching of most civilizations. However, when we look at Jesus we see the rule of non-proportionality. Jesus tells Pilate that he could send twelve legions of angels to save him (Matt 26:53) but instead he merely prays that those who do him injury and cause his death to be forgiven (Luke 23:34). Our natural reaction to any harm is to seek retribution (and if we are good, only proportional retribution), but that is not the teaching of Jesus Christ.
Not only are we commanded by Jesus not to seek retribution, but we are affirmatively commanded to love those who harm us. As Christians, we cannot be salt and light if we seek out proportional retribution and to only love those who love us – because most people in the world do the same. In our study of Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher reminds us that only when our love for neighbor is an objective commandment can we fulfill these requirements. In other words, only when we understand that “to love” is required and not optional and only when we love without regard to the identity of the beloved can we ever waive retribution and love our enemies.
Within these two commandments, however, we find the very heart of the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us to not seek retribution and to love our enemies, for only then can we obtain the perfection which is found in God himself. In other words, Jesus is telling us that God does not seek retribution and God loves his enemies. (see, Rom. 5:10). We see this lesson most clearly in the parable of the prodigal son (Lk. 15:11-32) where the Father does not seek retribution against his son (who wished the Father was dead and who squandered the family’s fortune), but rather the Father embraces his wayward son. In the parable, it is the older brother who seeks a proportional retribution and cannot love his brother until the accounts are settled.
Dinner is at 6. The menu is chicken potato casserole. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here!
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. . . . Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. . . . if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.Romans 12:14, 17, 20-21