“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
The words of Jesus, seen above, are extremely challenging. How hard it is to love those who hate us. Our natural inclination, and the feelings within us, tell us to hate them in return.
Our sinful nature wants payback. It wants revenge. It wants to give to these people what they deserve. It wants to give to them exactly what they’ve given to us.
If we realize the sinfulness of these thoughts and feelings, we still understand how hard it is to love people like this. At the very least, we pursue an attitude of indifference toward them. Even if we don’t seek their harm, we certainly don’t seek their benefit.
For this reason, these words of Christ seem like an impossible standard. We’re to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. We’re to bless those who curse us and pray for our abusers. As we read on in the text we’re told to offer our cheek to the one who strikes us on the other. He says that we’re not to withhold our possessions from the one who steals from us. We’re to give to everyone who begs from us. And we’re not to demand the return of our possessions which were taken by another.
We read these words and our reaction is this: “Jesus wants us to be a doormat?” It seems that, according to this statement, we’re to let others walk all over us. We don’t understand the reason for these commands that run so counter to our nature.
But then, in verse 32, we begin to see his reasoning. We see that, in these actions, we display the character of God. In performing these actions, we display the nature of God. He tells us that, if we love those who love us, if we do good to those who do good to us, if we lend to those from whom we expect to receive, it’s no benefit to us. In doing these things, we’re no different than sinners, for they behave in this way.
However, if we live out the call of Christ, our reward will be great. We’ll be sons of the Most High. This is true because it’s how he behaves toward us. It’s true because he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. We are called to be merciful just as our Father is merciful.
As we reflect on the gospel, we understand how this plays out in our own lives. God loves us even when we’re ungrateful. He loves us even when we’re wicked. As Paul tells us in Romans 5: “...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He goes on to say that while we were his enemies, we were reconciled to God.
You see, Jesus didn’t come into the world for a people who recognized their sin and pleaded for mercy. He came into the world for a people who hated him and who wanted nothing to do with him. He gave his life for them that they might be reconciled to God. It’s only after his sacrifice, and it’s only because of his sacrifice, that we love him in return.
We, then, are called to display to others the same mercy God has displayed toward us. Despite their sin and their hate, we’re to love them. Despite their wickedness, we’re to seek their blessing. And, above all, we’re to seek their salvation. We're to do so because this is the desire of our Father.