The Holy Gospel: February 20, 2011 (Year A)

Read:  Matthew 5:38-48

Meditation:  “Love in Enemy Territory”

To hear Jesus tell us to “be perfect” (5:48) sounds like he is telling us to do the impossible.  We have grown up believing “nobody’s perfect,” and even if we could imagine someone who is, it wouldn’t be us!

A closer reading of this week’s scripture shows that he is speaking of perfection in a different way.  He is instructing us in the way of love as it applies to those who oppose us—those who are our enemies. He says that anybody can love those who love them back.  The challenge is to love those who do not return our love—those who retaliate against us and refuse our love.  And that is what Jesus means when he speaks of “perfect” love—it’s love that is extended to everyone.

But to be honest, Jesus’ words (even with a narrower interpretation) are still a great challenge.  The Greeks had four words for love:  eros, phileo, storge, and agape.  The first three varied, depending upon the response of the one being loved.  Only agape remained constant, and the reason for the constancy was this:  agape is defined by the one loving, not the one being loved.  It is offered regardless of the response to it.

We know about “fluctuating love” because we have spent our lives giving and receiving it.  Agape is a “strange” love, not typical of most of the love we see and express.  It is the kind of love that only God can give.  Jesus is telling us to allow God to dwell in us, so that agape love can flow out of us.  Agape love is not a love we can “muster up” by trying harder and doing better; it is a love which comes to us from God and flows out of us to everyone.

Jesus says this kind of loving is a reality we can experience. It is possible because God can live in us through the Holy Spirit.  We can be instruments of God’s love—love that is offered to everyone—“perfect” love.  Love in enemy territory.

Jesus says that

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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