43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 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; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
To be fair, the scripture nowhere says, “hate your enemy” – though there are plenty of vindictive verses in the scriptures about one’s enemies.
In the aftermath of the brutal destruction of Jerusalem, the author of Psalm 137 is full of bitterness towards Edom and says of Babylon “9Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” Although technically this is not so much hate as revenge; these outsiders brutally harmed his group and the poet wants them to pay.
The psalmist declares, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?” (139:21) – though again, to be fair, the word ‘hate’ in the Biblical world wasn’t an emotion infused hostility and desire to harm; it was more of a detachment, regarding the other as a person for whom one has no obligation, no group solidarity. To ‘hate’ those who ‘hate’ God is to have no fellowship, no regard, no concern for those who show no allegiance to God.
The scribes have taught that the commandment in Leviticus to love your neighbor applies only to fellow Israelites. You have no obligation to those who are not of your tribe. No need to grant them either mercy or justice. No need to clothe them when they are naked, shelter them when they are homeless, or feed them when they are hungry.
But, Jesus has declared that the kingdom of God is dawning. He is teaching his followers to live as citizens of God’s kingdom. And here Jesus points out the simple truth that God sends rain on all. God shows faithfulness and solidarity to all humanity. God regards all people as members of his kin group. We are all God’s children. And if we are all God’s children, then there are no enemies, there are none outside the circle of our concern, there are none we should not receive as family, none we should allow to go hungry or cold or without a sip of cool water. None who should languish untended in prison.
At the end of Matthew’s Gospel we will hear that great story about the sheep and the goats with those memorable words: “as you have done to the least of these you have done it to me.” Those who treat everyone as if they were members of their family are the true children of the kingdom – and they will be acknowledged and welcomed as members of the household of God.