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 the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,  let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Love Your Enemies
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 makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,  what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48 (ESV)
“You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” Jesus started this section saying that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and scribes. Then he talked about what that would look like. It would mean to be like Jesus who in his love for you fulfills the law. It would mean to turn you other cheek when someone strikes you. It would mean to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, as when Jesus cries out from the cross and says “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” It was his prayer for you that in his forgiveness you would be made perfect.
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It’s present tense. People think that Jesus is giving them a goal to work towards here. No, he is giving a command that is beyond your ability to fulfil. It’s present tense. Right now you must be perfect. And that’s the thing. If you aren’t perfect you are not going to become perfect.
It echoes our Old Testament lesson about being holy as your Father in heaven is holy. There God speaks about what it means that God is holy, how God’s holiness is shown in this world, and therefore how that holiness is reflected in the life of those he has made holy. In Leviticus he talks about the sojourner and leaving food in the field for them to eat. Caring for those less fortunate than you. It most often did not happen. A person can hear it here in the words of Jesus. You have heard it said, “Love your neighbor but hate your enemies.”
Yes, they had heard this said. They had never heard that read, not from scripture. It was the reaction that we men have. We hear God tell us to love our neighbor and we think we are doing pretty good when we do love our neighbor. But we are like my confirmands who think this extends as far as the front steps on the house across the street where your neighbor lives.
People tell me love comes naturally. Jesus talks about this love. We love those who love us. We greet our brothers in the market place. Who doesn’t do that? Sure, there is a shadow of love there, but it isn’t the love of God who causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust, who makes it to rain on the evil and the good. Well, really he just causes the sun to shine, and rain to fall on the unrighteous. From his perspective there is not much difference between any of us, we are all imperfect. None of us reflect the holiness of God. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God.
And Yet, God still loves you. Not because you are perfect, not because you are making so much progress in becoming perfect. No God loves you for the same reason he loves your neighbor, for the same reason he causes the sun to shine on your enemy. Not because they are perfect, or better than you, or any other such thing. No, God loves you, and God loves them for one reason and one reason only. He loves you because he is perfect, because he is holy.
So it is that his holiness is reflected not in righteous anger striking out against sin. It does that. God holiness has little tolerance for sin, it is burned in his presence. But that is because sin kills those he loves. Sin kills you. Sin is hate. Hate is sin. This is true even of the hate you have for your enemies those who persecute you. But God’s holiness is shown in love. So it is that while you were still enemies of God, he died for you, to justify the ungodly, that is he died for those who were not perfect, who were not holy, that you would be given life, love and forgiveness in his perfect son who prayed for you from the cross, saying “forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.