Today’s gospel reading from Matthew (5:43-48) is one that many of us could probably recite from memory, do a cursory survey of all the people in our lives and come at the end to a conclusion of our innocence. But what if we expand the search for enemies to people we don’t know personally but of whom we have heard through the media or in some other way? Jesus is clear in his directive about relationship. It’s all about love. Have you guessed the text I’m considering?
Jesus said to his disciples, “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, for he makes the sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. If you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?…“
These are difficult days in our country and around the world. Protests of racial injustice are continuing everywhere and police brutality seems to increase daily. Republicans accuse democrats of all manner of collusion with the enemy and the democrats vilify republicans for their unwillingness to compromise on any of the Congressional agenda. Good people are swept up in crowds of looters and fights break out over the refusal of some to wear a mask to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
I have read this gospel many times and although I get to a place of sadness for all the dissension and enmity in the world, I never end up thinking that I lack a degree of love for everyone, abstract as it may be. Today I know that to be the point of what Jesus is saying. Love is never an abstraction. It’s the ability to dig deep down and consider why people act as they do. What are their life circumstances? (Were they abused as children? Are they starving for food? For love?…) Who has loved them in their lives?
Until we have faced our own lack of love for even one person, we are not “perfect” in God’s eyes. It isn’t about being perfect in our work or our talents. It’s about perfection in our willingness to love even the most unlovable. The good news is, I believe, that God does love all of those striving toward that love. We may never reach perfection in it. Quite frankly, I doubt that we ever will, perfectly. But it’s our effort toward the goal that seems to count the most. And right now, we need to put more effort into that goal than ever before and look to ourselves rather than to our enemies as we live into each day. (But don’t forget to pray for those whom you call “enemy.”)