The Hardest Commandment

I'd like to see you love MY neighborMatthew 5:43-48

You’ll recall the old law that says, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say love your enemy, wish the best for those who persecute you. That’s what marks you as God’s children.

The sun comes up every day for good and bad alike. And rain gets everyone wet, righteous or wicked.

If you love only those who love you, so what? Any crooked politician can do that. And if you say hello only to the people you already know and like, that’s totally unremarkable. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry does that.

Stand out! And you will show people how limitless God’s love for everyone is really is.

Lets be clear. There isn’t a law in the Hebrew scriptures that says, “Hate your enemy.” Jesus is clearly referring to Leviticus 19:17-18, which says:

You shall not bear hatred in your heart for your family. You call your neighbor out when you see something wrong, but you’re not to take revenge or hold a grudge. Rather you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

But just because it’s not what the law says, doesn’t mean people won’t interpret it that way. Keeping that kind of law isn’t hard at all. It’s what comes naturally, quid pro quo, all of that. A lot of people like that kind of easy law. But, as is sometimes said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves everyone blind and toothless.

What Jesus is asking is much harder. In fact, this is the hardest commandment: Love your enemy. Because, in fact, most of the time when we have enemies, those enemies are are our neighbors. Consider: why is it that it’s often much easier to give $20 to a charity helping people somewhere half way around the globe (victims of earthquakes and famines, for example), but so much harder to help people just across town when the mill shuts down?

The people we are most likely to be at odds with are the people we interact with on a regular basis, our neighbors (if we even know who they are) and our families. Thus, Leviticus. It starts with not holding grudges against those who are closest to you. And not taking revenge on those who have hurt you, who are also more likely to be people nearby. Notice that neither Jesus nor Leviticus says you should be a doormat. “Call your neighbor out.” But that’s it. After that, they’re still your neighbor. Let it go.

Granted: letting go, not holding grudges, not harboring resentment – it’s not easy. Then again, doing something truly remarkable is always hard.

[Bonus observation: If you love only those who love you, so what? Any crooked politician can do that. Herein lies Jesus’ ticket for anyone who wants to be a good politician – and it just might win elections, too. So much for pandering to the religious right (or left).]