The Sermon on the Mount at the beginning of St. Matthew’s Gospel show us one of the Discourses of Matthew and takes place relatively early in the Ministry of Jesus after He has been baptized by John the Baptist (Chapter Three), finished His fasting and meditation retreat in the desert (Chapter Four), and begun to preach in Galilee. It is a collection of the sayings and teachings of the Lord.
It is from this perspective that we reflect this Sunday’s Gospel (Mt. 5: 38-48), when Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well.
The succeeding verses continue on the Lord’s message of loving,
“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 his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
Loving your enemies must be the most difficult commandment to follow but that is what God commands us to do. A Jesuit website (Ref.: www.thinkingfaith.org, Jesuits in Britain) aptly describes what the Lord did during the Sermon on the Mount,
“Going up the hill to address His followers is done by the Lord to remind many of the early readers and to recall how on an earlier famous occasion in the history of Israel a mountain was the setting for the people of God to assemble and receive from their leader the revealed law of God.”
Jesus drew from the history of Israel to demonstrate the depth of His pronouncements. In the First Reading (Lv. 19: 1-2, 17-18),
The LORD said to Moses,
“Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.
“You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen,
do not incur sin because of him.
It may be hard to accept the fact of loving someone you hate, and yet the very same act of loving one’s enemies is supposed to summarize the ministry of Christ. His ministry didn’t abolish the law, but to fulfill it. When you can’t follow the commandment of loving your neighbor, including your enemy; how can you say you “Love God with all your mind, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength”, whom you do not see? As difficult as it may seem, it defines what is needed to be intimate with Him. God’s love is truly unconditional, we are to strive to love as God does, though of course, it is challenging.
Research shared by the Loyola Press says that in the original text St. Matthew uses the Greek word “telos”, which is probably better translated here as “complete”. We are not to be perfect as in doing everything correctly, that is, as in being absolutely morally correct. Perfection may mean striving to reach the completeness we are called to in the Kingdom of Heaven. Attempting to love our enemies is part of striving for that completeness.
Let us pray that God grant us the wisdom and strength to work on eliminating our weaknesses and frailties to heed these commands. Towards this end, may we always be mindful in our actions. May we always be humble and resist the temptations of our egos and pride.
“Whoever keeps the word of Christ, the love of God is truly perfected in Him.” (1 Jn. 2: 5)