43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 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. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
This is one of those classic passages that people love to quote, but for many of us it is a life-long journey to try to realize. I think sometimes, though, we have this idea that Jesus said things like this to his disciples and they immediately got it… and then immediately went and lived it out. But my hunch is that this was not the case. In fact, my guess is that upon hearing things like, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," there were several eyes rolling and, "Yeah, whatevers" being muttered under the disciple's breath. It is one thing to think of this in what is generally a safe North American context, but this was being said to people who were living in occupied territory… people who has long-suffered at the hands of the Roman army who "kept the peace" by brutal force. But that is exactly what Jesus said. How on earth are we supposed to do this?
Looking ahead to Matthew 6 I think Jesus gives us some helpful insight as he teaches his followers (including us) to pray. He says,
9 "This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,"
The interesting thing about praying to "Our Father" is that it is an acknowledgement that we are part of God's family. As individuals that is pretty exciting. The creator of the universe has welcomed us with open arms into his family! There is, however, another important word in that little opening address that we don't want to miss. It is the word, "our." I don't think it is any mistake that Jesus teaches his followers to pray "Our Father" because even though God is certainly interested in us personally… as individuals… being in relationship with God is to be part of a larger family. The thing about family is that YOU DON'T GET TO PICK AND CHOOSE. As much as we may not want to claim crazy aunt Sally, or as difficult as uncle Earl can be at family reunions, they are still part of the family. As a family, we love even those who sometimes don't act in such a way that brings honor to the family name. The truth is, we're much more willing to stay in relationship with those different than us if they are our brothers or sisters. When relationships with our brothers and sisters become broken we are more willing to work towards reconciliation. Family relationships also give us the opportunity to hold our brothers and sisters accountable in a way that is simply not possible from someone on the outside with no relational investment. Right?! So why does Jesus call us to "…love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?" In verse 45 he says, "that you may be children of your Father in heaven." It's about keeping the family together. It's about claiming our identity as children of God. We pray for those who persecute us because it helps us see them as God sees them… as his Children… as members of the same family. But again, how on earth are we supposed to do this?
The second phrase of the prayer that Jesus teaches us to pray is this, " your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Apart from God there is no way on earth that we can do this. But in this prayer we, as children in the family of God, invite the kingdom of God… a place where there is no suffering or sickness or persecution or enemies or war or disease… we invite this Kingdom to come. We invite things (by the power of God working in us and through us) to be on earth as it is in heaven.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.