But I Tell You ...

The Sermon on the Mount.  Nowhere else did Jesus speak so completely of the essence of the Christian life.  And nowhere else did he so clearly contrast the Christian life with life under the Law.  Six times he compared an explicit command from the Law with how he wanted his followers to live.   Do not murder – do not even be angry.  Do not commit adultery – do not even lust.  Divorce requires a legal certificate – do not even divorce.  Do not break an oath – do not even make an oath.  Repay an eye for an eye – do not even resist.  But His sixth quotation of the Law is different.  In it Jesus compares two commands from the Law – love your neighbor and hate your enemy – and tells us to love, do good to, bless, and pray for them instead.  Isn’t this just an elaboration on His fifth statement?  And wait!  The second half of the quotation – hate your enemy – cannot be found in the Old Testament!  Was Jesus wrong?  Are we off the hook?

Not at all!  The first half of the quotation comes from Lev.19:18, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”  To the Jew, his neighbor was another Jew – one of his people.  In that light, the second half of the quotation makes complete sense.  To the Jew, his enemy was a foreigner – one of the people of the surrounding nations that the Jews displaced or who oppressed them.  (See De.33:27, Es.9:5, and Ez.23:28.)  The Law told the Jews to love their own people and to hate their nation’s enemies.  Jesus told us to love all men without making distinctions as to the race or nation to which they belong and to treat all men as ‘our own people’.

We need to be careful of what we do in the name of ‘our own people’, in the name of our nation, in the name of patriotism.  Jesus said, “But I tell you … ,” and gave us a better way to live.

For a more complete exposition on the Sermon on the Mount, read What I Believe by Leo Tolstoy.