You have heard that God said, ‘You shall love your fellow Jew, and hate your enemy;’ but I am telling you; love your enemy and pray for those who harass you, so that you may be true children of your father in heaven, who makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and gives rain to the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what wage will you get? Don’t even tax- collectors do the same? And if you share greetings only with your brothers, are you doing anything unusual? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? You must be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.

There is nothing in The Jewish scripture that commands hate for enemies. Of course they teach a huge gap between Jew and Gentile, but there are many places where kindness to Gentiles is commanded or advocated. As Matthew must have known this better than me, I would interpret the words about hate as permissive rather than obligatory, that is, as a recognition by Jesus of the huge gap.

Obviously here we are dealing with a command that cuts the feet from all common social attitudes. Don’t almost all societies whether groups or nations require the outsider, the one you don’t need to love, as a balance; often, sadly, as the raisin d’être of the group?

‘Your fellow Jew’: the English word ‘neighbour’ which is the usual translation, is so bound up with the KJV translation of the Bible, that it distorts the meaning of the Greek ‘plesion’, literally ‘the person next to you,’ in this case, your fellow Jew.

‘Those who harass you’ The Greek diokontos has a range of meanings from ‘annoy’ to ‘persecute’. I have chosen ‘harass’ which is the middle of this range. ‘Persecute ‘vis a vis early Christian groups has the sense of something officially organised which is wrong here.

‘True children’ the text says ‘sons’ but is pointing to ethical imitation of God rather than theological relationship. Hence ‘true’.

Who makes his sun rise etc. The astonishing and unique command to love enemies is backed up with the equally astonishing interpretation of banal daily facts as instances of the terrible impartiality of God. The whole passage reveals such an ethical and theological insight, as to explain why his followers called him divine.

The rest of this section simply applies to this issue Jesus’ concept of more abundant right living; only the exceptional deserves reward. ‘You must be perfect.’ In today’s society he might be accused of elitism because he leaves ordinary decency as second rate. Such teaching could also generate anger and opposition. The over-the -top nature of Jesus Way is picked up by H G Wells in his Short History of the World (1922) Wells was not a believer.

“ In view of what he plainly said, is it any wonder that all who were rich and prosperous felt a horror of strange things, a swimming of their world at his teaching? He was dragging out all the little private reservations they had made from social service into the light of a universal religious life. He was like some terrible moral huntsman digging mankind out of the snug burrows in which they had lived hitherto. In the white blaze of this kingdom of his there was to be no property, no privilege, no pride and precedence; no motive indeed and no reward but love. Is it any wonder that men were dazzled and blinded and cried out against him? Even his disciples cried out when he would not spare them the light. Is it any wonder that the priests realized that between this man and themselves there was no choice but that he or priestcraft should perish? Is it any wonder that the Roman soldiers, confronted and amazed by something soaring over their comprehension and threatening all their disciplines, should take refuge in wild laughter, and crown him with thorns and robe him in purple and make a mock Cæsar of him? For to take him seriously was to enter upon a strange and alarming life, to abandon habits, to control instincts and impulses, to essay an incredible happiness.”

This may be a better creed than any church has formulated.

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