My first thought after reading the lectionary texts for today was that the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel is worth a whole life of reflection. It isn’t only the part that we know as the Beatitudes that teaches us how to live; the whole chapter is full of deeply meaningful concepts. It is clear from this preaching of Jesus that he did, indeed, come not to destroy the Mosaic Law but to fulfill it. When we read, “You have heard it said…” it’s clear that Jesus is specifying what was right action in earlier times and that he was urging his listeners to more, to go beyond what was an earlier norm to a deeper way of living. The example is clear today.
In the reading from Leviticus, God is speaking to Moses about the way to be holy. God talks about correct behavior toward brothers and sisters, fellow citizens and “any of your people,” concluding with the statement: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (LV 19: 1-2, 17-18) In the gospel, Jesus echoes God’s message about the neighbor with the understanding that God’s conversation with Moses was about behaviors among the tribes of Israel only, since the way of living back then was to conquer enemies who threatened others’ way of life. Jesus expanded the concept of neighbor in his day, however, by saying: 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, that you may be children of your heavenly father…(MT 5:38-48).
We’re still having trouble with that one, it seems. Sometimes it’s even hard to love those who love us if they disagree with our politics or some other cherished belief. How can we possibly expand our hearts to people who are altogether different from us? Jesus is certainly pushing the boundaries. As I was writing the previous paragraph I had a new thought. If Jesus was talking about an expansion of consciousness from the time of Moses to his era, shouldn’t we – who live as far away from Jesus in time as he did from Moses – be even further along in seeing everyone as a beloved neighbor than Jesus expected the people of his time to be? We could say the world is more complex today and there are more people to admit into our “neighborhood” so we can’t be expected to love them all. Look at all the horrific things that are going on! How can we love “those people?” Going back to the gospel I repeat the one sentence that I see as a beginning answer to it all. (See above) When Jesus tells the people to love their enemies, he adds: Pray for those who persecute you. No one is persecuting me personally but there is a lot of persecution in our world. If I were to pray for those I consider enemies of the USA or of Christianity or of any other way I define myself in the world, how would it change me? I guess there’s only one way to find out!