We’ve walked through some difficult material on violence and rights in my last two posts. As Jesus continues through what is called the Sermon On the Mount, He seems to conclude that section with the real spirit of the previous verses. I would invite you to read His thoughts with this mindset:
Yes, God may ask a lot of us. But if we had to pick what kind of God rules things, wouldn’t we want a God who errs on the side of grace and mercy? Think about that while you read this from Jesus:
Matthew 5:43-48: “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.”
You just read one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible. Something bad happens to a good person and a churchgoer will say, “Welp, God rains on the righteous and the unrighteous!” It is sometimes believed that Jesus was making room for bad things happening to good people here. While that situation is certainly a part of life, it is far from Jesus’ intentions for this passage!
Most of us have come to see rain as the wrecker of picnics and baseball games. In the ancient agricultural day of Jesus, people regularly prayed for rain! The rain was a blessing! The rain was a sign that God was pleased with people! Jesus is actually saying, “Love your enemies because God sends blessings to the righteous and the unrighteous.” This is in the context of a riff where Jesus is telling us that everyone naturally helps those who love them, but God is greater than that self-serving behavior. God is for everyone. God loves and blesses everyone. He says that we are “children of the Father” when we learn that approach to life. Love everyone; even those who don’t love you back.
This should help us understand the previous material about going the extra mile with a Roman soldier or allowing yourself to be taken advantage of by a “borrower”. This is why you shouldn’t seek revenge on someone who wrongs you. We must understand that this is about looking at all people with love like God does. This is about emulating God’s approach to life.
The Scriptures are clear that God is forgiving and kind. “His mercies are new every morning.” “His love endures forever.” If we hope to benefit from such goodness and mercy, surely we should be willing to extend that to others. In this way, we are living like God and living out God’s desires for His children.
I love how Paul says it in Ephesians 4, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Jesus also tells us in multiple places that God’s mercy is reciprocal. We receive mercy from God on the level that we give it. Perhaps Jesus, knowing this about God, is simply telling us this for our own good. Think about that! If God’s mercy really is reciprocal— you will be shown on Judgment Day the sort of mercy you gave to others— wouldn’t you naturally live out all the behavior Jesus advocated for? Maybe Jesus is just saying, “Go crazy with mercy because God will give it right back to you when you need it most!”
That guy punched me. I won’t retaliate because I don’t want God doing “this for that” on Judgement Day!
She wants some money and I know she won’t pay me back. On Judgement Day, I hope God forgives me for what I cannot payback!
The government has taken away might rights. I will submit, hoping that on Judgement Day God doesn’t hold me accountable for all the times I’ve infringed on His right to demand holiness of His child.
When I stand before God, I will need a lot of mercy! Fortunately, God tells me that there will be an abundance of mercy through Jesus, who paid my death penalty for me already! Paul says, in Colossians 1:22, “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…” If God sees me as “without blemish”, He must be the kind of God who is willing to overlook A LOT!
Jesus says, “That’s perfection! So be perfect like God!” Notice that as Jesus defines perfection, it doesn’t seem to be about following rules so much as it is about showing mercy.
If you want to understand Jesus, you have to understand mercy. If you want to get life right, you have to run hard after mercy and forgiveness. God loves everyone and is for everyone. To be that way, He has to get past a lot of our down-side. If we hope to be like Jesus, showing love to those who wrong us needs to be a daily practice.
If you’re reading this and feel like you’ve gone too far for God’s love to reach through to you, then read it all again. The whole point is that God loves everybody and His mercy is greater than a lifetime of sin. That’s what He offers us, so it shouldn’t be so hard for us to extend it to others. In the end, an innocent man paid our death penalty for us to provide eternal life to all who want it. We have no grounds to hold anything against anyone.