Fr Paul reads from the Gospel of Matthew (5: 43-48) in which Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, tells the people it is easy to love those who love you, but much harder to love your enemies.
Fr Paul says the theme of today’s reading is Pray for those who persecute you. He says, today we are presented with the last of the six standards in the Sermon on the Mount. Just like the first, this too is about love. Nowhere in the scriptures does it say,‘you must hate your enemy’, but Jesus was given to making his point by means of huge contrasts. In the same way, for example, he says that no one can be his disciple without hating father and mother (Luke 14.26), which has to be understood as putting Christ before father and mother – if such a decision should have to be made – rather than as positively hating them. In any case, here Jesus is teaching that we must love all people unreservedly. The Old Testament law (Leviticus 19:18) had prescribed to love your neighbour as yourself. The word there used for ‘neighbour’ widens family love to include the whole people of God but does not go beyond that. Here, Jesus widens it further, to all the recipients of the Father’s rain, good and bad, honest and dishonest, not just the Chosen People. As Christians, we must make a point of initiating the repairing of any breakdown in relationships. There are two further dimensions to this series of six standards of the Mosaic Law. Firstly, by putting unlimited love at the beginning and end of the series of six standards Matthew forms a sort of bracket, which implies that love is the theme and common factor of all six standards. Secondly, the series ends with the staggering demand that we hear today, ‘you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’. There is only one other time where that demand is made in the Gospels, and it is to the rich young man in Matthew 21.19, ‘if you will be perfect give away everything you possess and come follow me…’ How absolute this requirement of love is, however, is made plain at the Cross, where Jesus’ final word were ‘It is accomplished’ but in other translations it reads ‘It is perfected’ (John 19:30). That’s the love that Christ is talking about. Fr Paul notes today’s Gospel Lesson – lent is a time to love others unreservedly.