Emulating the Father

Jesus exhorted his disciples to become “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” yet how can anyone emulate the perfect righteousness of God? His explanation was clear - By performing acts of mercy, ESPECIALLY to one’s enemies. Self-sacrificial love goes to the heart of his message and reflects the nature of the merciful God whom he served. Was he not the Messiah who submitted to an undeserved death for others even when they were the “enemies of God”?

Performing acts of kindness is how HIS disciples “fulfill the Law and the Prophets,” thereby achieving a level of righteousness vastly “exceeding that of the Scribes and Pharisees.” In the preceding clause, Jesus used a Greek term that meant “superabounding more than” the righteousness of others (perisseusé…pleion), an impossible goal for imperfect human beings - (Matthew 5:17-20).

Cross Sunet - Photo by Daniil Silantev on Unsplash
[Photo by Daniil Silantev on Unsplash]

For 
HIS followers, lavishing mercy on opponents and even persecutors is NOT optional but pivotal. That is what it means to take up the Cross and follow Jesus “wherever he leads.”

Despite the difficulty if not impossibility, Jesus declared to his audience, “Therefore, you shall become perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The conjunction “therefore” connects the exhortation to what preceded it, namely, the summons for his followers to love their enemies. By doing so, they would become “perfect as his heavenly Father” - (Matthew 5:43-48).

This paragraph concludes the larger literary unit that began with the declaration that Jesus came to FULFILL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS. What was germinal under the Law came to fruition in his life and teachings, and what he required of his disciple exceeded the requirements of the Mosaic Law and the “traditions of the elders.”

Unless the disciple’s “righteousness superabounded more than the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees” he would not enter the Kingdom of God.

His declaration concerning the “Law and Prophets” was followed by six examples of how the disciple’s “righteousness” surpasses that of the “Scribes and Pharisees.” Jesus did not simply reaffirm the statutes of the Law, but he also pierced through to their true intent. This comes to the surface in how we treat others, especially our “enemy.”

Jesus extrapolated from the prohibition against murder to the principle that one should not even harbor anger toward another. Hatred leads to bitterness, and bitterness to murder. Instead of just refusing to kill an opponent, HIS disciple must seek reconciliation with the person who offended him, and he must pray for his enemy and do good to him. Evil is overcome by positive actions - (Matthew 5:21-26).

Likewise, HIS disciple must do more than abstain from adultery, lying or murder. Life in HIS Kingdom demands something more than just following the letter of the Law. It is insufficient simply not to lie. HIS disciple must be a truth-teller in his every interaction with others.

He turned the idea of an “eye for an eye” into the moral principle of “turning the other cheek.” He repudiated the popular interpretation that added the clause “and hates his enemy” to the original love commandment. Since the Law explicitly commanded love for fellow Israelites but omitted any mention of Gentiles, so the logic went, hatred of enemies was permissible - (Leviticus 19:18).

SHOWING MERCY


Jesus rejected that wrongheaded interpretation. Since the commandment of God prohibited any act of vengeance, the Law did not allow HIS disciple to hate anyone, whether Jew, Gentile, friend, or foe, let alone commit evil against them.

The man who is conditioned to think as the world does chooses to attack anyone who acts against his interests. In contrast, HIS disciple is summoned to love his enemy, pray for anyone who abuses him, and do him or her “good.”

Does God not send His rain on the just and the unjust? This statement is derived from the final clause of Leviticus 19:18. After commanding Israel not to take vengeance, God stressed His identity - “I am Yahweh.” Showing mercy to the deserving and the undeserving is fundamental to His nature. He is “Yahweh,” the one who keeps His promises, the same God who “desires mercy, not sacrifice,” indeed, He rejoices in it!

If the disciple of Jesus limits his love to friends and family, how is he any better than the tax collector or Gentile, let alone the outwardly devout “Scribe or Pharisee”? All of us naturally love those who do us good. However, loving our mortal enemy is something altogether different and foreign to our sin-dominated natures.

L0ve is much more than an emotion or an abstract concept. It is demonstrated in concrete acts of mercy. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”

Jesus engaged in the ultimate act of mercy when he “gave his life as a ransom for many.” Included in the term “many” were both his friends and “enemies”:

  • For if BEING ENEMIES we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” – (Matthew 20:25-28, Romans 5:10, 12:20, 1 John 3:18).

Norway Sunshine - Photo by Jonas Allert on Unsplash
[Photo by Jonas Allert on Unsplash]

Righteousness is not demonstrated by restraining ourselves from committing sin or conforming to someone else’s concept of morality. It is manifested by the good we do for others, especially to our opponents and persecutors!

Finally, the simple command of Jesus to love our enemies demonstrates eloquently that in his Kingdom there is no place for hatred, violence, or retaliation. It is through proactive love and concrete deeds of mercy that our righteousness superabounds, and our abundance overflows to others.



RELATED POSTS:
  • Becoming His Disciple - (No one recognized who Jesus was except the demons that he exorcised. Only in his death on a Roman cross did someone begin to perceive his identity)
  • Embracing the Cross - (To be the Messiah of Israel meant suffering and death for others, and Jesus summoned his disciples to follow that same path – Mark 8:31)
  • Discipleship - (To be the disciple of Jesus means living a life of self-sacrificial service to others, especially to the weak and the insignificant)

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