Suffering and trials and difficulties are a part of life. Everyone faces periods where life, well, sucks. Add to that one’s faith, Christian or otherwise and the difficulties will likely increase. Accept the Christian faith and the difficulties will certainly increase.
So, how are we to endure and persevere in the mean time, in the midst of suffering and persecution and just the difficulty of daily life? How are to we live in the here and the now of a world that often times seems like it’s going to hell?
Jesus pulled no punches. He offered hope and promises of reward, certainly. But he was as far from the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel as you could get. Rather, he plainly told those who chose to follow him that there would be difficulty because of their choice. Moreover, they would add to these struggles by inviting further trials. This passage is one example of such an invitation.
Rather than exarcerbate the pain and difficulty of life, rather than continue the cycle of retribution–lex taliones the Old Testament scholars call it–Jesus calls us to break it. We do so by refusing to play the game, by refusing to accept ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ as valid. And the way you do so is actually quite simple Jesus says–you do it by and through love. And to love is to invite the opportunity for further difficulty and inconvenience and even pain and loss.
38 “You have heard that it was said, `AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ 39 “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, `YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
How do we become perfect as God is perfect? We do so by love. After all, verses 38-42 really explain how we do what is called for in verse 43-48. We do so by loving God and loving our neighbor. Loving all, period, with no exceptions. We become like God when we love like God. We overcome and conquer the world by love. We are to be known by how we love one another in Jesus’ name, for, in the end, we may find that the Jesus in whose name we love is the Jesus whom we are in fact loving.
It is love made possible by faith in the coming redemption. Love made possible by grace in the one who came to us and, as Frederick Buechner put it, “loved us even in our lostness.” This is our call and our task as well. To love others even in their lostness, to love them even when they are unlovable, to love them even when they persecute us. Simply to love.
As Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist pastor at the turn of the 20the century, put it in his essay Dare We Be Christians?
“Our understanding of life depends on our comprehension of the universal power of love…Our faith in God and Christ is measured by our faith in the value and workableness of love…Where love is lacking, the atmosphere becomes clouded with suspicion and misunderstandings, and it becomes increasingly hard to see the truth, even for those who desire to see it…Love carries its own validation. It proves its own efficiency and trustworthiness of action. Selfishness always looks safe; love always looks like an enormous risk. Many have found that when all other securities had deprecated, love still paid dividends. Those who are too timid to embark in some venture of love are finally left on the desert shores of a life without interest or hope.”
To conquer through love, this is our calling. A call made possible by faith and hope in the one who promises that he will make all things new, that heaven will once again come to earth, that the name of the Lord Jesus will be glorified in you and me, that God will once again walk in the garden in the cool of the day, that God will finally and fully be all in all, and we shall all of us dwell in the house of the Lord forever and ever.
We are, indeed, to be known by how we love one another. But may we also be known by how we love others.
How we love our neighbors, how we love our friends and family, how we love strangers and acquaintances.
How we love those who hurt us, how we love those like us and those nothing like us, how we love those whom we think unclean and unholy only to find that we are describing ourselves.
How we love the poor, how we love the hungry, how we love the dirty and the smelly and the ugly.
How we love the unlovable, how we love the unkind, how we love even those who persecute us—which, by God’s grace, means we pray Jesus’ prayer for them: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ For the truth is that we all need this prayed for us, Christian or not.
We are to love people even in their lostness, for such is how God treats us.