I was reflecting in Matthew 5.43-48 recently and I noticed a few things. In particular, I noticed some of Jesus’ assumptions about how to evaluate our behavior. I think if we used these as a grid we’d be well on our way to knowing what to do in most situations:
1. Our actions are to be based not on immediate benefit but future reward.
2. Our actions are to be different from people who aren’t followers of Jesus.
3. Our actions are to be modeled on God’s impartial love for those who don’t deserve it.
While this is true in general (and often affirmed in theory), let’s remember that in context Jesus is talking about loving our enemies – those who insult and degrade us, who attack us, who try to rip us off or take advantage of us. If our actions were to be based on immediate benefit, we’d rectify the situation as soon and as efficiently as possible. In short, we’d get them back; we’d seek revenge; we’d even the score. If our actions were to be like everyone else’s, we’d do the same. The whole world recognizes and practices a form of justice (or karma) in which those who attack us earn a counter-attack from us. And if our actions were based on anything except God’s impartial love, we would once again fight back – no one would blame us or think twice; in fact, revenge is considered the only respectable and even acceptable option much of the time. So when our response to attack is to fight back, we should examine ourselves in light of Jesus’ assumptions about our actions – Are we seeking future reward from God rather than immediate benefit? Are we doing anything different from what everyone else would do? Are we modeling our actions on the impartial love of God for people who deserve the opposite?
Think about how all of our relationships (from close to casual, both personal and communal) would look different if we lived this way. Of course we could offer many more examples, but the main thing in every situation is to keep in mind the three points mentioned above. Peace