Huh? What did Jesus just say?

“You have heard that it was said, “You shall love you 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 children of God; for God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

~ Matthew 5:43-45

We have been traveling through the strange blessings of the Beatitudes on our journey through Lent.

We have wrestled with such blessings as poverty of spirit, mourning, and meekness. I don’t know about you, but I am as confused as ever! I can relate to the most common characteristic of the disciple’s response to Jesus teaching as

“Huh? What did he just say?”

Things get even more complex and confusing the deeper we get into the Sermon on the Mount. The two verses above express one of the most challenging commandments of Jesus in the midst of his sermon.

Love your enemy?

How do we make sense of this in our polarized and divided political climate today? What does it mean to love someone who embodies and expresses the very ideas you find offensive and abhorrent?

“Huh? What did he just say?”

I must admit it would be easier to simply skip over this portion of the gospel. (I am good at ignoring parts of the Bible I find problematic) But biblical scholarship indicates that the Sermon on the Mount (Mathew 5-7) is most likely one of the earliest portions of scripture we have in our bibles. In other words, because of its closeness to the time Jesus spoke, these words are more likely to be an accurate reflection of Jesus teachings.

A quick lesson in biblical scholarship – Mark is considered the earliest gospel written Screenshot 2016-03-07 10.56.16(around 70 CE) while Matthew and Luke followed sometime between 80-90 CE. (Scholars quibble on these dates and spend careers making their arguments. While many posit later dates for gospel composition, there is some consensus on this timeline.)

It is obvious that when Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels, they each had a copy of Mark. There are significant portions of Mark that are taken practically word for word in Matthew and Luke. Matthew and Luke also had their own particular sources of stories, sayings, and parables that are reflected in their gospels. But scholars point out that it was obvious that Matthew and Luke had one source different from Mark that they shared together. They call this document Q which is short for Quelle, the German word for source. The date for this Q document is placed somewhere around 40-50 CE and maybe as early as the late 30’s.

The Sermon on the Mount is part of this early document called Q. (We do not have a copy of Q as it it was lost in the first centuries of the church) Thus the challenging words of Jesus are likely to be some of the earliest teachings passed among the disciples of the church. For this reason, we catch a glimpse of the radical nature of Jesus sayings not only for his time but for our own as well.

Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. It seems impossible on a pragmatic and real life level does it not? It is interesting Jesus roots this encouragement in the nature of being a child of God, a God who makes the sun and rain fall upon good and evil. In other words, God’s loving grace is extended to all humanity no matter their righteousness or unrighteousness. Jesus commandment to love your enemy is reflected in his vision of God who loves all of humanity both good and evil and therefore calls us to do the same.

“Huh? What did he just say?”

The call of discipleship in today’s divided and polarized world is to be children of a God who loves beyond the human constructed barriers and divisions we have created. Martin Luther King once said:

“Love is the only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend.”

It is part of our witness in this season of political dis- content to resist the calls for fear and hate of others different from ourselves. It is our call to be a people of grace who embody God’s love not only with those we agree with but especially to those we may name as enemy.

I don’t know about you, but I find these words difficult and challenging. I encourage us all in this season of Lent as we travel to the cross where Christ died for all humanity (good and evil), and God’s love transformed the evil of the cross into something beyond our imagining. Amen.