By Emily VanBerkum
In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus places great demands on his audience. In fact, he outrightly asks for perfection. However, though Jesus’ words may strike the reader as an impossible task, Jesus carefully reinterprets the Mosaic Law’s understanding of retaliation and loving one’s neighbour in order to provide the key to spiritual happiness. If someone hurts us, our instinct might be to “get even.” Yet, Jesus suggests that we “turn the other cheek,” “give our cloak,” “go the second mile,” and not “refuse anyone who wants to borrow” from us. This laundry list of demands doesn’t paint the victim as a passive receptacle of unjust actions. Rather, it reveals a genuine desire to put an end to acts of retaliation for the sole purpose of being spiteful.
By unloading oneself of the immense burden of holding grudges or living in spite, Jesus reasonably argues that praying for those who persecute you rather than hating your enemies actually requires less energy. It’s easy to say that you could “love” your neighbour, but praying for them bears with it the beautiful hope of putting thought into action. Being “children of your Father in heaven” is the reward for loving without boundaries. Don’t simply love when it is convenient to do so, or even when you love the person already. Jesus isn’t easily fooled. Jesus asks an incredible rhetorical question: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”
I wonder, what does it mean to be “children of God?” In my opinion, the effort of striving for that awesome reward comes pretty darn close to any sort of earthly perfection I can conceive of or hope to achieve. I think others are in the same boat. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “an eye for an eye and the whole world would be blind.” If we don’t demand blindness as a form of justice, it’s worth giving Jesus’ instructions for spiritual happiness a try- no matter how difficult. If we ensure that our neighbour has near perfect sight, we can better navigate what it means to be “children of God”…together. There’s no “us against them” but a humble- and distinctly practical- sense of unity in the faith we profess and the life that we live.