Feb. 20, 2011
Matthew 5:38-48

In the John Wayne classic The Quiet Man, Wayne’s character must battle his love interest’s brother, Red Danaher. Danaher is an Irish landowner with few friends and a long list of enemies. In fact, one of Danaher’s cronies is tasked with maintaining the list. When offended, Danaher will cry out, “Take out your book.” His crony brandishes the book and Danaher dictates the offender’s name. Recording the name is not sufficient retribution. After the name is written down, Danaher proclaims, “Now strike a line through it!”

You probably don’t have a book in which you’ve recorded offenders and stricken their names. (I certainly hope you don’t!)  However, you probably do have a book in the memory banks of your mind: a record of all who have hurt or offended you. In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus commands us to recycle our book of revenge. 

Black Book Philosophy
In Matthew 5:43, Jesus intentionally misquoted from the Old Testament. “You have heard that is was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'” “Love your neighbor” comes directly from the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18), but “hate your enemy” is an insertion by Jesus. Jesus inserted the additional phrase to reflect common usage among the Israelites.

Israel had adopted a dualistic approach to love. If they were required to love their neighbor (fellow Israelites), the obvious inference to them was they should hate their enemy. While Israel did OK at loving its neighbors, the people excelled at hating their enemies. They believed their hatred represented God’s judgment.

Jesus inserted the commonly accepted phrase “hate your enemies” to reveal Israel’s erroneous practice of the law. Hatred for enemies extends beyond Israel in the time of Christ. While common decency demands a certain degree of kind ambivalence to those we do not know, that same common decency seems to demand that we treat our enemies with disdain. Insults and abuse are repaid in kind.

Whose name is recorded in your mental black book? The person who cut you off in traffic? The co-worker who covets your job? Your spouse?

Good Book Philosophy
The crowd or people must have scratched their heads when Jesus rearranged the phrasing. “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (v. 44). Jesus redefined the terms of love. According to Jesus, enemies were neighbors. Jesus later explained this concept when He told the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). An expert in the law wanted a clearly defined description of a neighbor. Jesus complied by telling the story of a Samaritan who showed kindness to an injured Israelite. Christ’s definition was clear: A neighbor is anyone in need, even an enemy.

As if this radical redefinition wasn’t enough, Jesus went a step further. Not only were His followers expected to love their enemies but also instructed to pray for those who persecuted them. It is one thing to feign love in someone’s presence, but quite another to lift them before God in their absence! Jesus continues to build on the philosophy developed throughout the Sermon on the Mount that an individual’s internal spiritual life has a direct bearing on his or her external expressions. 

Imitating Our Brother
Jesus contended that His followers should love and pray for their enemies so they can be sons of God. Like the audience surrounding Jesus, we find ourselves scratching our heads at the expectations of Christ. How can we love those who hate us? How can we show kindness to those who hurt us? This philosophy is counter-intuitive. It is impossible. It goes against our very nature.

That’s why we find confidence in the command of Christ. The instruction implies heredity. As sons of God, we take on the character of our brother, Christ. Jesus not only instructed us to pray for our enemies, but He provided an example on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

While we were still Christ’s enemies on the cross, He died for us. Thanks to God’s grace, our names can be written in the Book of Life. Shouldn’t we be able to throw away our black books of revenge?

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