There is something that we are all guilty of – getting even. It’s something that is all too familiar to us, something that comes too naturally. There is a sense of a twisted joy that comes with getting even. We even say, “I won’t get mad, I’ll just get even!” It’s something that we’ve all done at one point or another in our lives, whether it was getting even with the school bully who took our dessert or the driver that cuts us off on the interstate. We could all give many examples of getting even in our lives, but what would be the point? All of our plotting, our thoughts of how to get even all meet its end in our Lord’s damning statement, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” How do you do that, you ask? Where’s the fairness in that? What about getting justice, getting even? There is no fairness and there is no getting justice or getting even, there is only love.
Jesus in this portion of His Sermon on the Mount makes no mention of getting even or seeking justice. Instead, He advocates the complete opposite of that. He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well…. “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.”
There is no question that Jesus’ words make us stop and take an honest look at ourselves. And what we find is never a pretty picture. Just what was Jesus thinking when He told us to love our enemies? He does know what the definition of enemy is, right? There’s times where we cannot stand our families or friends, that we despise them and on occasion wish harm to them. When we dig deep into our hearts, we find that we are corrupt – not just a little bit but corrupt to the core. We confess that we are, by nature, sinful and unclean. That doesn’t mean just a little sinful or just a little unclean. No, sinful and unclean from head to toe, inside and out. Everything about us sinful. Everything about us screams that we do not desire God and the gift of forgiveness He brings through His Son.
In sharp contrast to the Old Testament Levitical laws and to the Pharisees’ twisting of the same, Jesus speaks out in favor of the law of love. There is no place for vengeance in the heart or the life of the Christian. Here He is condemning the spirit of lovelessness, hatred, and a yearning for revenge.
That my friends, is what we are guilty of – the spirit of lovelessness, hatred and a yearning for revenge. It is our sinful nature shining forth as a beacon of unholy and unchristian light. We are too busy wrapped up in hating our enemies that we forget that they are our neighbor.
When the scribes asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is, He answered them, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Neighbor and enemy, enemy and neighbor. Both are one and the same. That’s what Jesus says. He extends the idea of neighbor to our enemies. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus tells us to love our enemies. What kind of love is Jesus talking about? He is talking about ἀγάπη, that kind of love that sacrifices itself for others. How are you doing with that? Can you truly say that you make sacrifices for your enemies?
If that wasn’t enough, Jesus tells us to compare ourselves to God the Father. God the Father sends His rain on the just and the unjust. As Luther states in the explanation of the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people …” So Jesus asks us to follow the example of God the Father who blesses all people alike with the gifts of His creation. Finally, Jesus puts the final nail in the coffin of our self-righteousness with these words: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Remember what I just said – neighbor and enemy, enemy and neighbor. Are you as perfect as your Father in Heaven? Do you put Jesus first in your life? Do you put others next? Do you put yourself last? The answer is most likely no. And yet despite the fact, Christ views us differently, He treats us differently. St. Paul tells us, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
You and I are the enemies of God. Our sinful nature causes us to want everything that is opposite of God and all that He is and all that He desires. And yet, despite that fact, He sends His only begotten Son into the flesh in order to redeem us, the ungodly. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We were sinners and Christ died for us. We are still sinners and Christ still pleads on our behalf, for He is the once-for-all sacrifice that was needed to bring creation back to its Creator.
Paul says, “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” We have the reconciliation between God and man, between Creator and creation. We have been reconciled, forgiven of our sins and made clean by the blood of Christ that washes over us. And just as Christ has forgiven us, so we too forgive our enemy – not because he is our enemy, but because he is our neighbor. We forgive because Christ has forgiven us, reconciled us unto Himself.
Jesus taught us that we are to place God first in all things, then we are to love our neighbor even if our neighbor is our enemy. The reason is very simple, for our enemy is the same as we are, God’s creation. But even more than that, our enemy is one for whom Christ died in order to save. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.