Over the past few Sundays we’ve been hearing Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s gospel. We are hearing Jesus communicate the fulfillment of the law – a way of life that, if adhered to, would allow us to approach perfection in holiness. But to approach this perfection, Jesus sets a pretty high bar. Today we hear what might be the most challenging of Jesus’ commands – that we must love our enemies (Matt 5:38-48).
But what does loving our enemies really mean? We find the answer all throughout today’s scripture readings. It means reflecting God’s kindness, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness even to those who show none of this to us. It means countering angry and violent behavior with a response of temperance, and peace. It means “baring no hatred, taking no revenge, cherishing no grudge” (Leviticus 19:17-18). It means putting forward a generous and forgiving spirit even to those who wish us ill. It means focusing on reconciliation rather than retribution. It means allowing even those who betray us a chance for redemption. It even means praying for those who do us harm.
Now all of this makes for a very tall order, one that some might see as overly burdensome. But we know that Jesus asks this of us out of love. He is giving us a gift – an opportunity to approach true perfection – to “be perfect as God is perfect”. Think about this for a moment. Just the fact that Jesus is putting God’s perfection within our reach speaks volumes for what he thinks of us, and how much he loves us. Even though we might not be meant to ever achieve this level of perfection in this life it is remarkable that Jesus extends this offer to us. It reminds us that Jesus sees absolute goodness in us, and he wants to draw it out of us.
But Jesus does not expect us to strive for this perfection alone. Jesus gives us his Spirit, dwelling within us, to strengthen and guide us as we dedicate ourselves to obey even the most challenging of God’s commands. And if we fall off course on our journey to perfection, God is there for us. If we need to begin again, God always gives us that chance. All we need to do is remain open to God and let his Spirit work wonders in us. And then what might seem impossible – to love an enemy – just might be within our grasp.