“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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:43-48).
The Sermon on the Mount is a pattern for right Christian living. It contains some of the greatest insights into Jesus’ teaching. Its teachings are refreshing, inspiring, and challenging. Part of what the Sermon on the Mount offers is a challenge of the status quo prevailing at the time. Under Moses, the people of Israel had grown used to keeping (and breaking) many laws. As the embodiment of Yahweh’s salvation, Christ has mandate to fulfill “the law and the prophets” (cf. Matt 5:17).
This duty to fulfill the law and the prophets includes redefining the laws of the old dispensation in accordance with the will of God. A lot of human weaknesses had crept into the old law to the point where people at times had distorted understanding of love and truth. Consider the following, for example: “They said to him [Jesus], “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matt 19:6-7). In this climate of hardness of heart, divorce had become “normal.” Lust in the heart, revenge, and hatred, too had become “normal.”
Since the Fall man lost much of the innocence with which God endowed humanity from the beginning. Under Moses, and even long after him, many people had grown used to ways of life which appeared “normal” and “right.” True morality was often restricted to certain narrow practices, as was the worship of God. This climate of the “new normal” prevailed for ages. Until the coming of the Christ, all was business as usual. Humanity, even the chosen people of God, had grown used to a lower and shallow standard of righteousness. That is what happens when people walk in the dark. That is what happens when hardness of heart shapes the pattern of righteous living. When you do something repeatedly over a long time, you tend to become used to that standard. It becomes your new normal. Sometimes, repentance involves rejecting the old normal and embracing a new normal. It means leaving the climate of sin and mediocrity for the climate of true righteousness and peace in Christ Jesus.
Christ appeared to do away with our “business as usual” and to challenge and elevate us to a new normal. He came to replace our business as usual with his business unusual. In a climate where hardness of heart prevailed over the truth of God’s holiness, it was normal to live by the following norms: “an eye for an eye;” “love your neighbor, hate your enemy,” and many more. With the inauguration of the kingdom of God in Christ, these principles have no place. They lose their evil force. They are replaced by the supreme principle of love. To practice love is to do business unusual. Love is the supreme law that must govern human conduct. Any law detached from the law of love ultimately leads to destruction. Revenge is anti-love. Hatred is anti-love. Lust is anti-love. The Sermon on the Mount revealed everything that was wrong with the old way of conducting business. But it revealed the splendor and power of love.
Unfortunately, even today there are still many who hold on to the old business as usual. They refuse to embrace the power of love. They opt instead for the power of destruction manifested in the craving for revenge (often under the guise of justice and the need for closure) and hatred. To such people, Jesus addresses the following: “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?” (Matt 5:44-47). Those who have ears, let them hear. Revenge and hatred are destructive forces that belong to the realm of darkness. Love alone can make the world a better place. Let us listen to Christ. Let us choose love. Let us choose business unusual, meeting hatred with love, and meeting revenge with patience and trust in the Lord. This is the inheritance of the children of God. Welcome to the reign of love!
Invitation to pray:
Dear Lord Jesus, you have taught us to love and pray for our enemies. Give me the strength to do what you command. I forgive those who hurt me. I ask you to forgive them. I reject revenge and, I choose forgiveness. I renounce hatred, and I choose love. Let me always overcome by the power of your love. Amen.