Lent, Day 14 — Love Is Simple and Complicated

Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
Love is simple and complicated.

You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.
(Matthew 5:43-48)

  1. Because you’ve heard this before, read it sloooooooowly.
  2. “You have heard that it was said.” This is the pattern Jesus has been using for the last several paragraphs. Everyone knows Jesus is quoting the Bible. “Love your neighbor” and “love the immigrant as yourself” are both in Leviticus (19:18 and 19:34).
  3. But the Bible never actually says, “and hate your enemy.” Sure, the Psalmist says he hates God’s enemies “with a perfect hatred (Psalm 139:22). But “hate your enemy” is not in the Bible.
  4. Let’s be honest: today’s “Love the sinner and hate the sin” is really just a kinder, gentler form of “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Paternalism, looking down on others, is not love. And guess what? It’s also not in the Bible.
  5. Let your love be like the weather, Jesus says, falling on neighbor and enemy alike. The Bhagavad Gita (a Hindu text) says, “…The devotee who looks upon friend and foe with equal regard, who is not buoyed up by praise nor cast down by blame… such a one is dear to me” (12:18-19).
  6. Some translations say “be perfect,” but the translation I’m using here, the Common English Bible (CEB) says “complete,” and I think that’s closer to the intent. Be complete or perfect in love.
  7. The language is a call back and a contrast to Psalm 139 mentioned above: complete love vs. complete hatred.
  8. John Wesley believed complete and impartial love was possible for us to realize in this life. I know it feels impossible. But dwell on that image of God’s radiant love, like the sun, and remember that it’s a community that Jesus is speaking to. This should be a radiant community.
  9. And here he challenges his listeners: What’s the point of being God’s chosen people, Jesus argues, if we Jews don’t love any differently than Gentiles or tax collectors? This is again a description of how the community of prophets is supposed to “shine a light” and demonstrate the truth of who God is.
  10. Let’s take a step back. It’s easy for us to see Jesus as a softy in this chapter: “Don’t call anyone a fool, don’t be angry, make peace, turn the other cheek, love your enemies.” But in chapter 23, he calls the religious leaders “fools, children of hell, and vicious snakes.” Is this an example of “do as I say, not as I do?” Or is there something else going on? Why is it okay for Jesus to call the religious leaders such harsh names? Is it just because he’s Jesus?
  11. We need to acknowledge that we live in a world today where people who claim to follow Jesus use the word “love” to justify all kinds of evil and oppression, and to silence criticism of power and Christian complicity in violence. If you object to the status quo, if you march in the streets, if you point out hypocrisy and lies, you will be called “unloving.” This is how the world inverts Jesus’s message.
  12. The call to demonstrate a community of love has to go along with the earlier saying: “Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me.”
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