38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Love is in the air. You felt it this past Tuesday, right? That’s the day we’re all supposed to acknowledge people we love with gifts, cards, and flowers, and the people who love you do the same. Now, it’s not a good idea to keep this kind of thing hidden until February 14. That’s not what love does. When you love someone you find ways to show them that fact every day. Love isn’t butterflies in your stomach, that’s nerves. Love isn’t that feeling of walking on the clouds, that’s infatuation or fixation. Love is giving your time to make a meal and clean up so that your wife doesn’t have to. Love is taking him out to get a grill or a new hunting accessory. It’s giving your wife some time away from the kids. It’s letting your husband go to the game or on the fishing trip. It’s cleaning up your room before your parents ask. It’s being honest and helpful. It’s letting your little brother have the last scoop of ice cream. It’s all that kind of stuff that you do for someone you care about, not really looking for something in return. That’s what love does.
And this kind of love is not only key for a marriage and in a family, but also for Christians and a congregation. God has so much to say about love in the Bible and most of the time it is not in the context of a marriage. Most of the time, he is telling us how we can care about our brothers and sisters in the faith.
But today, Jesus takes it even a step farther than that. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” He says love is also for people that don’t love you back. He says love is for your enemies. This isn’t the kind of person that annoys you at work. This is the kind of person who lies about you, trying to ruin your career. Jesus isn’t talking about the quiet outsider but the loudmouth protester who’s trying to wreak havoc. This isn’t the talkative kid who sits behind you at school. This is the bully who keeps verbally and physically putting the hurt on you.
What do you want to do to people like that? The natuarl human reaction is…to get even, or worse! Just look at kids. When a brother steals his sister’s toy, she gets mad and takes it back with a little shove. Then, the brother trips her. Then, world war III breaks out. To keep that natural reaction in check, God gave civil laws to his people in the days of Moses so that people wouldn’t go crazy with retaliation. The civil government would levy just and appropriate punishments. If someone’s eye got hurt by another person it wasn’t the death penalty.
Jesus recalls that rule. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Jesus is not saying that you can’t defend yourself from an attack to your home or family. He’s not saying that you must be a scrawny passivist with no gumpiton. Jesus is saying that for his people there is something much more important than your idea of personal justice.
Listen to his next example. “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” The tunic was the shirt, the garment right next to your body and the cloak was the outer garment. Of the two, the cloak was more expensive and more important. In the Old Testament, God made a special point to say that if you were borrowing a cloak you had to return it by sunset so that the owner could have it for sleeping. Jesus is saying here that if someone is suing you for “the shirt of your back,” then give them your more expensive and most important garments, too.
Is Jesus saying this is what your enemies deserve? Not at all! Really Jesus is saying there is something more important than your personal rights and feelings. Jesus wants our primary concern directed to others, not just the people who care about you but also those who are mean to you or who are trying to take advantage of you.
Jesus loves being really clear for us, so here’s another example: “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Maybe your dad used that experession, “Go the extra mile.” Mine did. This is where we get that from. Here’s the background to that phrase. In Jesus’ day, Palestine was under Roman rule. There were Roman soldiers there to keep the peace, which the Jews weren’t thrilled about. Romans soldiers were permited by law to compel civilians to carry their baggage for one mile. How do you think Jews felt about such a rule? They hated it. And you would, too.
Let’s just say we live in a country that is under the rule of another nation. You’re driving down the expressway and a soldier of that foreign nation can stop you, put his bags in your trunk and tell you a new direction. And you have to do it! How would you feel about such a rule? You’d hate it. And you wouldn’t be so fond of the soldiers either. Even if it was legal, it doesn’t seem fair.
Jesus says, “Don’t just do what is expected, but go beyond what is asked of you. And do this for people who you don’t care for.” Why is this something that Jesus wants us to do? Well, he says there is something more important than your idea of fairness.
What’s more important than your personal justice, what’s more important that your personal rights and feelings, what’s more important that your personal idea of fairness? Jesus tells you. It’s love. Jesus says his people will sacrifice our own personal feelings, attitudes, and even our personal possessions in the name of love, because love is more important. Demonstrating Christ-like love to another person is more important, even if that person is your worst enemy.
Is that how you live? Is that what you teach your children, not just with your words but also with your example? Is that what Christianity is known for? Are we known for how much we love people? Are we known for how much we will sacrifice for others who might even hate us?
Reading this section from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount made me ask a few times this week: is Christianity broken? Because for a lot of people, the answer is “Yes.” Christianity is not the answer but a problem. You may know people personally that think Christianity is not doing anyone any good. Churches are filled with hypocrites who learn about love and peace and serving others, but refuse to practice it. Churches that preach Christ don’t follow his example. Christianity just gives people a superiority complex and a license to do whatever they want, because God’s always going to forgive.
Is that the message you are sending? Are you failing to give up your own desires, opinions and preferences for the sake of others? Are you too interested in your comfort zone and the way you like things to show love to people who need it? Are we willing to love people with the kind of love Jesus is teaching us?
You know, this is a section of Scripture that can be down right offensive to us. “Lord, I’m trying. I come to worship. I give offerings. I help out for different church things. I wear a smile on my face. I try to be as positive as possible. But ‘Love my enemies.’ I just can’t. They have hurt me too much. I don’t want to have anything to do with them. It’s not going to work. They’ll never change.” If you have ever had those thoughts, then do you know what you are doing? You are saying, “Thanks, Jesus, but no thanks. I love what the Bible says, but not this part of it.” And do you know what God says to people who treat his Word like that? “If anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city…” If you can’t be perfect, if you can’t love your enemies like Jesus teaches here, then you don’t get to live with a perfect God in his perfect home.
Who can? Who can do this? Who in this world can love people, even enemies all the time? Who can prove that Christianity is not broken? I have to admit today, I can’t. You can’t. Not one person in the world can have this kind of love perfectly. Not one person can hold up themselves or their church and say, “I’m not broken. I’ve got it right.”
But listen to this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Did you hear that? God causes the sun to rise on good and evil people. He sends rain for his believers and unbelievers. God says the only person who can have this perfect love for enemies is him.
So God decided to come here for people who were not on his side. God came down to live in a place filled with evil people. And he showed them love. When he was rejected by so many, he did not give up. When plans were made to get rid of him, he did not stay away. When he was arrested, he didn’t argue. When he was on trial he spoke the truth in love. When he was mocked, spit on, and beaten, he turned the other cheek. When he was crucified, he prayed for them. When our sins caused all of this to happen, Christ willingly and lovingly decided to take it all for us so that we would never face the punishment we deserve.
Christ did this for us while we were sinful and evil opponents to God. He died for us. The Spirit washed our sins in the blood of Christ with the water of Baptism when we were still hostile to God. God loved you, even when you were not lovable so that you would be a child of the Father in heaven.
Is Christianity broken? Not a chance with Christ at the center. When Christianity starts to be about me and my feelings and my preferences, it’s doomed. But when Christianity is about the love of Christ, when it’s about showing others the sacrifice that Christ made, when it’s about the home Christ has won for sinners, then nothing can stop it.
Brothers and sisters, you have a God who loved you and made you his very own when you weren’t on his side. Now that he has brought you in and made you his child, what does that do to you? It makes you live every day for him. It makes his love show up in your life.
A really nasty coworker, protestors with different political viewpoints, bullies at school, and every other enemy there may be has a God who loves them, has a Savior who died for them, and has a Christian just like you who cares for them. That is what God’s love has done to you. He has made you like his Son. He has filled you with his love that is not partial or restricted, but it’s for all. It’s that kind of love that puts others first because Christ put us first. Last week was about showing love to those you care about and the people who love you. Now, Jesus gives us a different focus with our love, to those who don’t care so much for you. And you can do it because God’s love fills you and then it works through you.
God grant it. Amen.