Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This concept of love is hard to understand on a strictly human level. Further, he tells us to “.. be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How can Jesus expect us to be perfect? Today’s reading is part of the famous Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus is teaching about life in the “new” Kingdom of God that He gives us. As we reflect, keep in mind that we are called to be different than the world in which we live.
Jesus calls us to be different, to live by different norms than those of today’s culture. How do we accomplish this? The same way that the disciples were able to spread the Gospel message, by grace. It is grace - treating others, not as they deserve, but as God wishes them to be treated - with loving-kindness, mercy and forgiveness. We receive the necessary grace from God to live like this by always seeking and acting according to His Will. What makes us different is that we are also called to spread God’s grace to others, even those who are hateful or unjust to us.
While we must love without expecting the other person to reciprocate, it is easier when we keep in mind the redeeming love and mercy that we have received through Christ and His ultimate sacrifice for us. Recognizing the grace we have received, which is strengthened when we accept the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we can be free of all hatred, resentment, and the desire for revenge.
Was Jesus exaggerating when he said we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect? The original meaning of "perfect" in Aramaic is "completeness" or "wholeness - not lacking in what is essential." This helps us understand that perfectionism is not required or even to be desired. We are called to strive for a “wholeness” that encompasses our entire being, both human and spiritual. Our journey of faith is a constant seeking to be “in communion” with Christ. This is the completeness that we would call “perfect.”
Loving your enemies and those who persecute you is not easy. But if we “take on the mind of Christ” as our daily perspective of the world, we can make great strides to bring God’s grace to those who are not easy to love.
Today’s Questions for Prayer and Reflection
Who in your life is most difficult to love? What can you do to bring them love?