Two children are in a fight, and when we separate them both point at the other and shout “well he started it”. We might respond “well even if he did, you carried it on!”
But as we grow older we forget to apply Christ’s simple but profound wisdom to our own lives.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.
But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
Of course, as we become adults our disputes are less likely to be over schoolboy issues. We might have a ‘neighbour from hell’ who takes advantage of us and tramples over our ‘rights’. And when we respond in kind, and when the conflict escalates we say ‘well he started it’. And perhaps ‘who are you to criticise what I do?’.
When, was a Christian,e find ourselves in this sort of situation, do we respond by justifying our actions? Do we argue that Jesus’ teaching is wrong and doesn’t apply to our case? Or do we admit that we are in the wrong, perhaps too tired or weak to do what we should. Do we accept that we are falling short of his instruction to be ‘perfect’ (i.e. do we repent) and humbly ask him to work with us to correct this flaw in our character?
If we look elsewhere at Jesus’ wisdom we find that he has already given guidance on how to love our enemy. Again, we have a choice of arguing that he must have got it wrong, or we can choose to work with him to try to follow his words:
“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.”
“But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”
None of us are yet perfect and we all fall short of Jesus standard. But the critical question is, do we want to be perfect? Do we want to change and allow Jesus sacrifice and grace wash us clean.
If we want to hold on to our hatred, anger and right to hit back at our neighbour then Jesus cannot help us. A pastor often told me “Sin cannot get into heaven” … if we want to hold on to our sin, we can do – but we could not be allowed into heaven; we would spoil it for everyone else. If we choose to hold on to our hatred then we are choosing to separate ourselves from the infinite goodness that is God.
To be clear, I am not judging or criticising anyone who finds themselves in a difficult situation with an enemy. None of us know how we would respond if we were in someone else’s shoes. None of us can tell another to remove the speck from their eye! Judgement is for God alone. But hopefully this post points out simply and lovingly what Jesus tells us.
“the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”