“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 anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

“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. 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 own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:38-48

Our Gospel lesson today in Matthew 5:38–48 about loving our enemies.  The first kind of enemy is found in verse 44, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

lectionary teaching, seventh Sunday after EpiphanyIn some parts of the world Christians are still being crucified, quite literally.  Several years ago, I met Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, of the Anglican Church in Sudan.  He had just come from Sudan where he had been dealing with a Church that was grieving over the fact that five Christians had been crucified, one of them an Anglican priest.  Another Anglican Bishop Daniel Zindo attending the same conference reported that widows and orphans of slain Christian men are sold into slavery in north Sudan and Libya for $15 per slave.

Jesus says, “Yes, love them.  Love them.  If they kill you, love them.  If they take away your father, love them.  If they destroy your home, love them.  Love your enemies.  Be that kind of person.  Be so changed on the inside that it is really possible.”

God gives us grace according to our circumstances.  I pray that if I were in that situation, God would give me the grace to respond the say the Sudanese Christians respond.

But Jesus also has in mind situations much less dramatic than that.  A lot of people do not consider themselves God’s enemies.  They would resent being told that they are God’s enemies.  In fact, you may not call them enemies.  But they are people who get under your skin.  They are contrary and antagonistic.  It might be a rebellious child or an uncaring, non-listening, ill-tempered husband.  It might be a cantankerous neighbor that complains about everything you do to your yard.  It might be someone you worship with every Sunday whose personality sets you on edge—someone you would never actually call an enemy.  But what feelings do their irritations produce in you?—something akin to enmity?  Jesus says, “Love them.  Love your enemies.  Love them.”

Verse 44 gives one of the deepest meanings of love for your enemies.  It says, “I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love, because it means that you have to really want something good to happen to them.  You might do nice things for your enemy without any genuine desire that things go well with them.  But prayer for them is in the presence of God who knows your heart.  It may be prayer for their conversion.  It may be for their repentance.  It may be that they would be awakened to the sin in their hearts.  It may be that they will be stopped in their downward spiral of sin, even if it takes disease or calamity to do it.  But the prayer Jesus has in mind here is always for their good.

How do we do this? Where does power to love like this come from?  Just think how astonishing this is when this kind of love appears in the real world!  Could anything show the truth and power and reality of Christ more than this?

Part of the answer is in Matthew 5:11–12, “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me.  Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Jesus says that not only can you endure the mistreatment of the enemy, but you can also rejoice in it.  Why?  Because great is your reward in heaven.

This means that Jesus’ command to love your enemy is a command to set your mind on things that are above—learn to live with your mind on things above, not on things that are on the earth.  The command to love your enemy is a command to find your hope and your satisfaction in God and His great reward—not in the way people treat you.  “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life” (Psalm 63:3).

Loving your enemy doesn’t earn you the reward of heaven.  Treasuring the reward of heaven empowers you to love your enemy.

Heavenly Father, give us the ability to follow Your example, for caring for those who mock, abuse, or harm us.  Open up our hearts to pray and love those who hate us, for those who stand against Life, abortionists and abortion supporters.  May our prayers be the means of their salvation.  We ask these things in Your name, Amen.

This month’s reflections have been written by The Very Rev. Robert S. Munday, Ph.D., D.D. Rev. Munday is Rector of All Saints Anglican Church, Montrose, Colorado, and is a member of the Board of Anglicans for Life.