I don’t know about you, but when I hear stories of Hitler or Saddam Hussein or even cops who mistreat those of another race, my blood boils. I get angry. I can’t stand people who do that.
Ever heard the phrase, “birds of a feather flock together”? If I’m really honest, I tend to feel more comfortable around people who look and talk like me. We all tend to. It’s easier to like those people. They speak my language.
Let’s be real about my faith too. Now that I’ve been a Christian for about 26 years, I speak very good Christianese. I get these people. We believe in the same God. I love hanging out with these people more often because they don’t force me to question my faith or encourage me to sin (typically :).
Sound familiar? I’m guessing if you are a Christian and you read these three sections above, you probably identify at some level. But, when we read Jesus’ second question that he asked in scripture, we are challenged to not accept this as the status quo.
Some of Jesus’ most challenging teaching in scripture began in Matthew, chapter 5 with the famous Sermon on the Mount. But, this challenging section of teaching continues on through Chapter 7. At the end of Chapter 5, Jesus shares these great questions, “46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
If you love (only) those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not the tax collectors even doing that? I intentionally added “only” to these words direct from scripture. “Only” is not in the black and white in that first question, but it is clearly inferred. And convicting.
Most people are very aware that Christians are supposed to love each other. And, in theory, seems pretty easy. I mean seriously, it’s pretty easy to love someone who is loving you. Easier, anyway, than everyone else. Seems obvious. Christians, we are supposed to love each other. But, when you look at the world. When you are look at folks who aren’t Christians. They are doing a pretty good job of that too. I meet non-Christians all the time who are loving someone who is loving them. I haven’t met too many people, period, that don’t love someone who loves them. A few don’t, but most do.
However, Jesus is talking mostly to a group of pretty religious people who have been called to follow a bunch of rules and regulations (read Leviticus for more of those fun details). These people claim to be “God’s chosen ones.” They supposedly are different from everyone else and representing God to the world. Sounds like they should already know some of this stuff. Their ten commandments were familiar, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t covet, don’t cheat on your spouse, don’t lie. But, nothing about loving one another. God had set up a number of rules so that they knew how to be decent to each other and get along. There wasn’t a ton about loving each other.
But, God did love his people and expressed his love for them many times. He asked for their love and devotion in return. This kind of love makes logical sense. When we love someone, we expect their love in return.
However, Jesus was turning their world upside down with one is his crazy teachings. Here he is asking a few rhetorical questions, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
“Tax collectors” was code for jerks or power mongers in society. “Your own people” referred to people who looked and acted like you. “Pagans” were folks of another religion that the Jews looked down upon. Jerks, power mongers, people who don’t look or act like you, and people who don’t believe in your God. All of these people love like that. They love those who love them.
Jesus was leading them somewhere else. He wanted them to love people who didn’t look or act like them. He wanted them to love people in leadership who treated people poorly and took advantage of them. He wanted them to love people who didn’t believe in their God.
Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. What? Huh?
I’m betting those in that original audience were a bit stupified. (I made that word up.) However, today, we have a bit of an advantage of having the whole story and truth in front of us when we hear these words.
God, our father, is perfect in love. He perfectly loves. He loves those who don’t believe in him. He loves those of all races and religions. He loves those who don’t look and act like him.
He even loves those who treat people poorly and take advantage of them. That can be hard to accept. But, he loved one such fella, Matthew from that position as a tax collector. Tax collector’s typically were pretty evil, selfish people who took advantage of the poor and downtrodden. But, because of Jesus’ love, this tax collector, Matthew became one of his original disciples and even wrote this gospel teaching that we are discussing.
Matthew’s life was changed because of this kind of love that God gave him.
Before we loved God, God loved us. He loved us so much, he died for us. God’s love is perfect. Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. This isn’t easy, but it’s also not an option. It’s interesting to note that many people think that being a Christian means that you are just a “good person.” I don’t know many good people (outside of Jesus) who can or do love like this.
We can’t do this on our own or in our own power. We need the help of the Holy Spirit. We need forgiveness for falling short way too often. We need to let God show and tell us how.
We need to pause and think about the people in our lives that are difficult to love.
God wants us to love them.
We need to think about the people in our community that are hard to love.
God wants us to love them.
We need to think about the people outside of our country that are hard to love.
God wants us to love them.
Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. And let him show you how.