In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has stated his intention to bring the Law and the Prophets to fulfilment. Jesus challenges and deepens the Jewish law. He repeats: ‘You have heard it said, but I say this to you!’ In today’s gospel we hear how Jesus presents two further tenets of the law.
The instruction ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ was a way of ensuring that retribution, repaying evil for evil, did not get out of control. Punishment should always be proportionate to the crime committed. Jesus, however, instructs his disciples not to pay back evil for evil. This is a difficult teaching for people of today, and indeed of any time, for it urges us to endure without retaliating when evil is done to us.
The climax of this part of the Sermon on the Mount, the last of the series of ‘antitheses’ in which Jesus contrasts traditional teaching with his new way, involves the love of enemies. For traditional Jewish understanding hatred of enemies was allowed. But Jesus presents the love of enemies as basic to Christian life. Once again a stern challenge is thrown down to our natural inclinations and actions. It is not surprising that Jesus goes on to say: ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect!’ To live the Christian life is to make God’s compassion and love the measure of our actions. Jesus himself will live out these teachings. He will forgive those who crucify him.
Am I open to the challenges the gospel brings?
Do I take seriously the command to ‘be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’?
We pray for those whose lives are poisoned by hatred.
We pray for a new heart and a new spirit.