This particular passage is reminding the Mathew Community that even if hatred for them is systemic they cannot return this hatred with hate. The enemy must be treated with love. The Jewish leaders forbid the Christians to enter they synagogues. The Romans considered the Christians subversives who could enter a revolt at any time. So were to be regarded as possible as subversive.
The Christians were expected to love all. One reason being that “God let the Sun to rise and fall on all: the good and the bad. This challenge was regarded by others as impossible. The Dead Sea Community had a motto which said “Love the Children of the Light. Hate all the children of the Dark.” With God as an example Christian must love everyone.
Love of enemy is unparalleled in Jewish and Pagan literature at the time of Jesus. Love (tamin) is used only twice in the scriptures. Here and when Jesus spoke to the rich young man and “Jesus looked on him and loved him.”
In Paul’s letters to the Corinthians Jesus shows us how to love those who do not love you. Paul was asking the Corinthians to contribute to the Jerusalem Community. At the same time the Jerusalem Community persecuted Paul because he was sharing the Gospel with Gentiles. They also resented Paul’s calling himself an Apostle!”
Matthew gives us one of the most difficult passages in Sacred Scripture. “Be per-fect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Scripture tells us we are perfect when we fulfill our purpose. That is “We are perfect when we fulfill God’s Will for us”. God is universal benevolence. We become like God when we seek the highest good for our neighbor. We become like God when our love is unwearied, forgiving, sacrificial love, when our love is for our neighbor. We are perfect like God when we never cease to care for our neighbor. We are perfect when we can forgive as God forgives.
Fr. Ken O’Malley, C.P., is the local superior at Holy Name Passionist Community in Houston, Texas.