Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48
Key verses: (38-39) “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you…”
Reflection: Today’s reading comes from the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The Gospel readings from the daily lectionary have been from this sermon all week. The sermon extends from 5:1-7:27. It is the first major teaching block within Matthew’s gospel—a defining speech for the early Christian community. In today’s passage, Jesus makes a series of statements beginning with, “You have heard it said…,” and then adding, “but I say to you…” This section of the sermon begins in 5:17.
Scholars suggest that Matthew’s original audience was likely a group of Jews who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and who had been expelled from their local synagogue because of this. The academic theory is that they were likely accused of abandoning the law of God as expressed in Torah. Jesus’ sermon reiterates the truth that he came “not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” (Matthew 5:17) He begins the section by intensifying what the law says, thereby calling our attention to the spirit of the law, not just the letter as it relates to murder, adultery, divorce, and taking oaths. Millie’s devotion yesterday spoke to this reality.
At verse 38, that changes. Jesus doesn’t intensify the law, he changes it. While the Torah calls for an eye for an eye, Jesus says, “Do not resist an evildoer. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Give to everyone who begs from you.” Then comes the most radical call—“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” This is not consistent with the religious tradition Jesus grew up observing. This is a radically new concept. It is a game changer. It’s also the command that Christians through the centuries have had the hardest time observing. Living this way just might get you killed.
Of course, it did get Jesus killed. He loved his enemies to the end, even asking God to forgive those who nailed him to the cross. And God raised him from the dead, validating the truth that his love, even for enemies, is in fact the way that is the truth about life.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, how does his command to love our enemies shape our lives? Does it? What might change in our lives if we took this command seriously? What might change in our world if Christians took this command seriously? Jesus doesn’t let us off the hook. In fact, he concludes this section of the sermon with these words: “Be perfect, therefore, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Prayer: “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.” Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].