Rev Moss

How are we to treat each other? In recent days, that question has been hotly debated in the media. It is no surprise that we are asking this question. International events and local politics have made us all reflect on how we live well together in such a diverse community. It is not a new question – ever since humans have lived in a community, we have tried to work out how to treat each other.

Among the myriad voices, Jesus finds a special place in this debate. Jesus’s words in Matthew chapter 5 are like mountains, standing out for us to gaze upon and to reflect deeply about their significance. They are words that have influenced the greatest peacemakers of modern times. Here are Jesus’s words:

43 You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

It is important to put Jesus’s words in historical context. The people who Jesus is speaking to are no strangers to oppression. For six-hundred years, the Jewish people had been cruelly oppressed by successive occupying forces. At this point, it is the Romans who rule politically, and they rule with sickening force. Jesus’s audience could tell you very clearly who their enemy was. The teaching that would have been heard in the local synagogue at the time was, “love your neighbour and hate your enemy”. That type of teaching is no different to what some still preach over social media today. However, Jesus says that this not how God works.

Jesus says, “Look at the weather and that should tell you very clearly how you should treat those who hate you.” God does not look at the morality of a farmer before He sends the rain. God’s good blessing of rain falls on both the good and the evil. Jesus tells us that if we want to identify with Him, then we should treat people the way God treats people – with grace. We have no right to withhold love from those who God sees as worthy of his love.

The Project host, Waleed Aly, recently said that forgiveness is the only way to stop the downward spiral of hate and fear. Jesus goes further and pushes us all to a very uncomfortable place – He tells us to love our enemies and pray for them. He is not telling us that we need to have warm fuzzy feelings for the people who hate us. That is not the love that Jesus is referring to. Jesus wants us to reflect on the Father who sends rain on the good and the evil. Jesus wants us to adopt an attitude that lifts up the one who hates you, which will bring life to the one being loved.

Reflecting on Jesus’s word in Matthew chapter 5, Martin Luther King Jr wrote in his book, The Strength to Love, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

That is exactly what Jesus did for us when He gave his body on the cross. He transformed us and made His enemies into His friends. Anyone who wants to take His name needs to do the same, no matter what the cost. It’s hard to do and contrary to our nature, but Jesus has not left us on our own. He promises to give us all we need to be able to love like Him. We have no excuses.