Pray for Your Enemies – February 23, 2014 – Matthew 5: 38 – 48

Do you remember what the 10 Commandments are? You probably learned them in Sunday school or at vacation Bible school. According to Deuteronomy 5: 6 – 21, they are:
1) I am the LORD your God, you shall have no other gods before me.
2) You shall not make for yourself idols and worship them.
3) You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God.
4) Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
5) Honor your father and your mother.
6) You shall not murder.
7) You shall not commit adultery.
8) You shall not steal.
9) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10) You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife and stuff.

If you look at them closely, the first 3 – have no other gods or idols and don’t misuse the Lord’s name – are concerned with our relationship with God. The fourth – observing the Sabbath – is a good way to nurture that relationship with God. And, numbers 5 – 10 are about how we should treat one another.

If you think of it that way, God gives more attention to how we should relate to one another than to how to relate to God. God gave the commandments to Moses for him to share with the Hebrew people after they had been freed from Egypt and before they entered the Promised Land. These were commands for how His people should live as they founded a nation. These commandments are so important that they appear in the books of Deuteronomy (5: 6 – 21) and Exodus (20: 2 – 17) and are expounded upon in the book of Leviticus and in the teachings of Jesus.

Our pop quiz on the 10 Commandments this morning was fairly easy. It’s easy to memorize the commandments, but not so easy to live them. Every day is a test of our understanding and willingness to live by God’s commandments. The Law was given to the Hebrew people, and passed on to us, because living out these words imitates the behavior of God. We should think of the commandments as a description of the “ideal community that is devoted to God” (Commentary, Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Callie Plunket-Brewton, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011). This ideal community expresses their love of God by caring for one another and not exploiting one another. When we love one another, “we imitate God’s…love and…mercy” (Walter Wink, “Outdoor Ministry”).

Over the past few weeks, we have been reading Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It started with the Beatitudes and Jesus follows that with interpretation of the Law. All of the Law is rooted in the 10 Commandments and the entirety is about relationships, our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. Jesus teaches that how we relate to other people should be a reflection of how God relates to us which is pure love. In verse 48, Jesus says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” That is the New International Version. But, I like the way the Common English Bible translates the verse. In that version, Jesus says, “Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”

The text today is broken up into 2 sections, the Law of Retaliation and the Law of Love. It is Jesus’ teaching on Leviticus 19: 18 which reads “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” As we hear in Jesus’ lessons, the Bible isn’t always black and white.

Jesus begins this message expounding upon “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone.” He says, ““You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.” Exodus 21: 23 – 25 tells how to reconcile an injury to a pregnant woman and her baby. It says: “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” So, Exodus says an eye for an eye, but Leviticus says don’t seek revenge. The 2 seem to contradict one another. In one it seems okay to avenge a wrong-doing, but the other says not to.

Both Exodus and Leviticus texts are meant to restrain revenge seeking. In Genesis 4: 23 – 24, Lamech says that he killed a man for wounding him, like Cain was avenged for killing Abel, so Lamech avenged the wrong done to him. Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 19:18 sought to reign in person’s vengeance for being wronged. Neither Scripture condoned violence, but the Exodus text wanted to show how God’s people should handle disputes. A punishment should be equal to the crime.

Jesus, as always, challenges His listeners to a greater command. Jesus says not to seek punishment at all and if someone seeks reparation from you then you should give them more than they asked or double. Jesus’ 5 examples of being hit, being sued, being temporarily forced into servitude, and being asked for money seem not to be related, but they are. Each instance is a moment when a person would normally stand up for his or her own rights. Jesus’ teaching is that our neighbor’s needs and well-being is more important than our own right.

Jesus continues His teaching on Leviticus 19:18 which says love your neighbor as yourself. He says loving your friends and family is easy, but encourages His Disciples to also love their enemies. Jesus says that God shines light upon and causes rain to drop on the righteous and the unrighteous. So, children of God should treat all equally and love everyone the same and pray for our enemies as well as those we love.

When Chris was preparing the bulletin this week and read my sermon title, she shared with me a song that was about this Scripture. It’s a funny country song. Let’s listen to a bit of it. “Pray for You” by Jaron and the Long Road to Love.

“I haven’t been to church since I don’t remember when
Things were goin’ great ’til they fell apart again
So I listened to the preacher as he told me what to do
He said you can’t go hatin’ others who have done wrong to you
Sometimes we get angry, but we must not condemn
Let the good Lord do His job and you just pray for them

“I pray your brakes go out runnin’ down a hill
I pray a flowerpot falls from a window sill and knocks you in the head like I’d like to
I pray your birthday comes and nobody calls
I pray you’re flyin’ high when your engine stalls
I pray all your dreams never come true
Just know wherever you are honey, I pray for you

“I’m really glad I found my way to church
‘Cause I’m already feelin’ better and I thank God for the words
Yeah I’m goin’ take the high road
And do what the preacher told me to do
You keep messin’ up and I’ll keep prayin’ for you”

The music video for the song is really funny. The guy with a broken heart makes a voodoo doll and pokes it with pins trying to vex his ex-girlfriend. I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind. Praying like that for our enemies is still seeking some form of vengeance for our being wronged, like a broken heart. The video leaves you with a sense of empathy for the girlfriend as all these things happen to her.

In the end, the ex-girlfriend shows up looking like she wants to get back together with the broken-hearted boy, but he slams the door in her face. I think that would be okay with Jesus. You see, some people hurt us very badly. They may break our heart. Or, someone may abuse us. There are times when we have been so wronged that the relationship is unsafe or beyond reconciliation.

Praying for our enemy does not always mean allowing them to be a part of our life. There are some relationships that are salvageable. There are others that are not. We should be wise to know the difference between someone who could again be our friend and someone who is not emotionally or physically safe to be in our lives. Those people who are unsafe or unhealthy for us we should wish them well and wish them well. Perhaps remember the good times shared and let them go praying for their well-being.

Jesus’ teaching about not seeking revenge, going the extra mile, and praying for your enemy is about selfless love. In each of these situations, we are called to set aside our sinful desires. By Jesus’ life, we are shown selfless love. He didn’t resist His enemies even to His death on the cross. The Kingdom of God shifts the power differential from ourselves to our neighbor. Selfless love doesn’t seek our own rights, but chooses the well-being of others. That is not to say selfless love leads to our demise. We just should not seek our own rights, instead allow others to have their rights. We do this not in the hope that God will give them their due. We do this because we can be bound by hate to those we wish harm but by loving all our neighbors we will be freed from the burden of revenge. Then, we will be free to live abundantly with those we love. That is the Kingdom of God.

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