“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. -Matthew 5:43-48
Jesus was once asked about the greatest commandment. He answered, “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.” -Matthew 12:28-34
In those words, Jesus explained the two tablets of the law. One is our obligation to God, the second is obligation to our neighbor. How simple in words, but difficult in practice. The second, for example, requires me to love my neighbor as myself, to pamper and nurture those around me just as I pamper and nurture myself. Who effectively does that? No one. The perfection we are called to is impossible for us to do. Thank God for a Savior who kept the law for us and who paid our penalty for not keeping the law.
Jesus pushed the commandment even further when he said “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” It is one thing to behave in that way toward likable neighbors, but to do so for our enemies! Again, hard as we may try, we are far from perfect. Thank God we have a Savior who loved his neighbor perfectly but who also loved his enemies! Of his enemies who had just crucified him, Jesus cried out from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
St. Paul prioritized doing good. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” -Galatians 6:8 So, we are to do good to all. We are to love our neighbor as ourself. We are to love even our enemies and pray for them. But we are to begin with the household of faith. If we cannot love the fellow members of our church with a true, Christ-like, brotherly love, what chance do we have of loving the neighbors we don’t know or the enemies we have hated?
In these days of the pandemic, our doctors and health experts have given us guidance about how to care for the safety of one another. The guidance includes things that are awkward and inconvenient, but hardly difficult to do: wearing face masks, social distancing, avoiding contact with vulnerable persons, following the special protocols of places of business, following the best advice of our health experts. Why should these simple acts of kindness not be the standard in the household of faith? In that spirit, I urge you all to bring your mask with you the next time you come to worship. Follow the protocols and guidelines established by the church in order to keep people safe. Go out of your way to show kindness, love, and respect to the household of faith, and having started there, do the same to your neighbors and your enemies. Christ is our model. Did he love those of the household of faith? Unquestionably. Did he love his neighbors? He healed them, fed them, and died on the cross for them. Did he love even his enemies? He withheld angry words, he endured suffering at their hands without complaint, he died on the cross, calling upon his Father for forgiveness for his tormenters Consider carefully the love Christ has shown you. Take up the simple tasks by which we can love one another during this extraordinary time.