43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
Matthew 5:43-44 (NIV)
Personally this verse is one of the hardest ones for me to wrestle with. Firstly, who is my neighbour? Is it literally 1 house either side of mine? Or is it the street, any one in Essex? Britain, Europe? Does it reach further? Could it be the 7 billion + human beings that populate the earth? Are we really neighbours? Does there need to be some sort of relationship here to be neighbours, some sort of connection or is it a generic term to just mean everyone?
For Israel, it was the children of their people, as a nation that was perhaps a bit easier at the time to quantify and be able to work out. ‘Are you from any of the tribes of Israel? No? Great then you’re not my neighbour, goodbye.
The term ‘neighbour’ in today’s definitions seems to mean ‘someone who is very close in proximity.’ Ok, so that sort of works then, its people who I come into contact with or who I could easily be in contact with that are living and functioning close to where I live and work etc. What about social media?
I live in a new build house and our fences are 6-foot-high and solid timber, so I can’t actually see my neighbours in the garden anymore. I remember growing up and our family home had 3-foot high wire mesh fences. I would sit in the garden playing and listen to my mum and dad chatting away over the fence to our next-door neighbours, the Davis Family. We knew their children, if both families were out in the garden on a summers day you couldn’t ignore them or pretend they couldn’t see you and vice versa, you ‘did’ neighbours stuff. You talked and were interested in each other.
The fences on social media don’t really exist either, you can reach across the sea in a second and have a chat with someone thousands of miles away. Share videos and live feeds. So who is your neighbour? How do you define it? Then maybe the next question to ask is to do with the Jesus statement; how do you love them?
This bit is a challenge! So we need to define who are neighbours are and love them but we are reading here that Jesus expects us to love our enemies too, and pray for the ones who actively and purposefully hurt us. Er…what?
This has been explored and debated so much – I would love to see what your thoughts are in the comments to loving our enemies. What does this look like? Who are these people and what does it really mean to love them? Invite them over for tea? Or is it about not seeking revenge but speaking well of them, doing ‘loving’ things as opposed to ‘hateful’ things?
As always if Jesus said it you can be sure he lived it, and guess what, he did.
‘Forgive them father for they know not what they do!’
Jesus is at the worst moment in his life, he can see his own murder unfolding before him. Having already been ridiculed and savagely flogged and now hanging there, nailed to the cross, he shows love to those who the world would say are his clear enemies. He doesn’t call down fire and lightening from heaven to strike them, he calls out no curse from the cross upon them, he shouts from his lungs a cry of love for his enemies.
I don’t know how you read these words of Jesus but for me, Jesus backed them up in the way he lived and the way he died. I find that incredibly moving.
Image Credit: Matej Rieciciar