Dear Friends in Christ,
We learn better if new teachings can be related or ‘pegged’ to what is already stored in our minds. The primary school child may be taught one way of understanding, for example, rainfall, but by secondary school a more sophisticated and scientifically accurate explanation will bring the child closer to the truth. In the light of further research in adult life, the student usually learns once more to discard some previously acquired ‘knowledge’ and to embrace a deeper understanding.
Jesus teaching in the same ‘organic’ way. He loved the law and would do nothing to discredit it, but his mission was to complete it. Thus, he often begins by reinforcing the familiar with ‘You have heard that it was said…’ The new understanding usually expands, rather than reduces, the message of the law, making it more radical and at the same time more loving. ‘Be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect’.
That perfection includes loving not only your friends but also your enemies. We are called to radical commitment to the Good News, which involves more generous, more prayerful and more willing to set aside our own needs for the good of others. But loving our enemies? This sounds like and impossible goal – we often struggle to be in the same room as them! Jesus is trying to help us to see the world a little more as God sees it. For God, there is goodness within each person; every person you meet is created in the image and likeness of God. Our task is to make room for everyone. Firstly, because that is how God is, but secondly because we do not want to be in bondage to our resentment and thus fail to grow in our own relationship with the Lord of love. Our efforts will demand much more of us spiritually and even emotionally but will pay dividends in a new kind of interior freedom.
We have already seen this attitude lived out – in Jesus himself, who shows us what God is like. Jesus loved his enemies, forgave those who mocked him, scourged and crucified him. In this sense, we can say that the Sermon on the Mount predisposes us to live a life of self-giving, in imitation of Christ.