I am not a politician, though I did once run for public office, and seriously doubt I will ever do so again. It is too messy. I even got so far as to serve as the County Vice-Chair for a major political party. I have been unaffiliated for about ten years now. The more deeply one dives into politics, the uglier the environment becomes, regardless of affiliation.
It’s no great secret that politicians often do not mean what they say, and do not expect to be believed, or taken seriously. By and large a candidate will say what must be said to secure the vote. A candidate can say “I hate glug, but love rapft” to a given crowd, then travel to the next town and say, “I love glug but hate rapft” without feeling the slightest bit contradictory.
Jesus was not, and is not a politician. He does not speak out of both sides of his mouth. He does expect both to be believed and to be taken seriously.
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 do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, 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. – Matthew 5:43-48, ESV
Jesus is not speaking rhetoric or hyperbole. He’s serious! We are to love our enemies and pray on behalf of (not against) our persecutors. Jesus is so serious about this that he will say it again.
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. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. – Luke 6:27-31, ESV
I am convinced to the core of my being that Jesus, our Lord and Master, is speaking quite literally, and he expects to be taken seriously by his followers – by us. This command, direct from the mouth of God-in-the-flesh is ubiquitous in its application. There is none owning an exemption from the command, and there is none to whom its instruction does not apply.
Neither do I see any possibility of following through on Jesus’ command if we stand in stubborn refusal to forgive our enemies. Through obedience to Jesus, our enemy, by definition, becomes our neighbor, and the object of our love. In his cursing, our enemy is granted our blessing. In his abuse, he is the object of our intercession before the throne of God.
How can Jesus ask this of us? How can he possibly expect us to follow through on such a lofty command?
Jesus can ask this of us because it is what Jesus offered us in himself.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8, NASB
Jesus did not wait for us to clean up our act. He did not instruct us to first purify ourselves. No. While we were eyebrows deep, mired in sin, at enmity with God, Jesus died, was buried, and rose for our forgiveness. How then can we deny anything less than active, loving engagement on behalf of those who live in enmity with us?
When we bless those who curse us, do good for those who hate us, pray for those who selfishly abuse us, it bleeds the bitterness out of our sentiment toward them, bending us to a posture of compassion. It is difficult to hate a man while I am praying for the blessing of God on his life.
When we behave in this way, we show ourselves to be children of the Father in heaven. We invest in the lives of men and women who need the grace of God every bit to the degree that we need it.
I believe this introductory look at a difficult call from Jesus is a steep enough challenge for this week. Next week we will take up our literary shovel and dig just a little more deeply into this astonishing command from the Lord and Master, Jesus.