During this special Year of the Word: The God Who Speaks, we are going to have a regular series of reflections published on our website which will prompt us to reflect on important passages of St Matthew’s Gospel, and learn more about them. We are very grateful to Dr Natalie Watson, a contemporary theologian and writer, for offering these reflections for our community.
The Bible of the earliest Christians was what we now call the Old Testament, the books of the law and the prophets of Israel with which the first readers of Matthew’s Gospel would have been very familiar. This is why Matthew frequently quotes from the Old Testament when he explains what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus. And so Jesus says in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount: ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.”’ Yes, this is what many think they have read, but only the first half of the quotation is actually in the Bible; the second isn’t. Loving our neighbours, our friends, our families, people like us does not imply that we should hate our enemies. But Jesus is not merely interested in correcting his listeners’ memory. What he challenges them to do is much more radical: ‘But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.’ In a later chapter Matthew illustrates what this means by telling how a soldier of the Roman occupying army asks Jesus to heal his servant who has fallen ill. What Jesus asks us to do here is not merely to live and let live, to tolerate those who are not like us, those who have offended us, but to learn to see them as God sees them, as people who are in need of his love just as we are. Jesus says: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ This is not ‘perfectionism’ as we might understand it, but Jesus calls us to measure all our relationships, with those we love and with those we find hard to live with, by the standards of God who loves us without measure.
God of all people, help us to live as you call us to do and to learn what it means to love as you love us.