Today’s Gospel contains a recognizable phrase in it. We are reminded of Jesus’ words, “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” These well-known words are easy to remember despite the difficulty of the challenge they set before us. However, while that challenge is real there is a lesson we can take from today’s Gospel as well as some encouragement.
There are many passages in the Bible with which we are familiar and yet struggle to comprehend. For one, there are mysteries of our faith that can make comprehension difficult. A second factor is our disconnectedness from some of the cultural references and analogies that allow us to truly penetrate what is happening in the words. While those two are out of our control, our third struggle is our own creation. Whether you blame tweets, proof-texts, bumper stickers or some other device of slogan proliferation, we can put ourselves at a disadvantage when reading Scripture because we know all the catchphrases without the wider context that truly gives a statement meaning.
Take today’s gospel as an example. People are familiar with the phrase, “love your enemies.” Speakers and authors will even tell you that is one of the central tenets of the faith, and they are right. But why? Because what Jesus goes on to tell us is that loving our enemies is something we do in imitation of God. We don’t do this merely because God tells us to but also because God does it too. Thus, if Christianity is truly the belief that God became like us so that we might become like God, then yes, enemy-love is a central tenet of our faith.
What’s more is that this passage accomplishes three other ends. First, it establishes another favorite New Testament slogan, “God is Love.” As Jesus establishes that God provides for both those that align themselves with Him and those who set themselves against Him, He is telling us that God loves His enemies. Second, this shows us what Jesus means by love. He hasn’t reduced love to a kind of abstract feeling of affection or wishful thinking, but direct provision and blessing. Third, it encourages us that God’s love is always available to us and is not something we are trying to earn. For if God loves His enemies, then He still loves me when I set myself against Him in sin, and it is that love that will turn my heart back to Him.
So as Lent continues, let us continue to allow God’s love for us to draw us back to Him. Let us also continue to explore God’s Word. Find a passage you know well (Google is great for finding the exact citation) and then explore what the verses surrounding it contribute to its meaning.
May God’s Word enlighten us and His great love encourage us, amen.