15 March 2014

Matthew 5:43-48

"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (v.44)


Jesus' disciples are called to be united to God in purpose. Their actions are to be in perfect harmony with God's actions (verse 48). Such a community of disciples becomes the 'true' people of Israel that God always intended. In a metaphorical sense, everyone else can be called 'Gentiles' and 'tax-collectors' (verses 46-47). Those terms have nothing to do with race, religion, occupation or political choices. They simply express, in vivid imagery, a distinction that is unavoidable - on the one side, followers of Jesus; on the other, the rest of society.

The key issue is about how people behave. Typically, in pretty well any group or community, there is pressure to set limits on where love and service are to be offered. Tribal loyalties, family blood-ties and the pride in belonging which is fostered within organisations mean that love is real enough, but confined to the friendship network - we love those who love us (verses 46-47), and easily demonise or blame those who are not like us (verse 43).

Disciples of Jesus, however, must love everyone without any distinction whatsoever. As John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, said, they must be "a friend of all and an enemy of none". Indeed their love must reach out to their enemies and persecutors on the same terms as to everyone else. They are not to give privileged attention to fellow disciples.

('Love' here is not about liking someone or pretending that everyone, however hostile or obnoxious, must have a 'good side' to them. Love means acting in the best interests of another person, serving them so as to release their potential as a mature human being.)

In being a Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37) to everyone they meet, a disciple imitates the activity of God, who indiscriminately sends rain and sun on everyone. Jesus embodied the divine universal love; by following him, disciples are drawn into the activity of God. Loving all, including enemies, comes with a high price tag - it is the way of the Cross. But its 'reward' is communion with God, or life in God's kingdom.

To Ponder

  • How is it possible to love someone who has bullied you without colluding with their bullying? Is it possible?
  • What would it take today to resolve to love the least favourite member of your family circle? What practical action would need to be taken to express such a resolve?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Deeks

The Revd David Deeks is a retired Methodist minister. He has always focused on theology and spirituality as practical themes.