We have been reading the last several days from the very challenging portion of Matthew’s Gospel in which we hear Jesus use the formula: “You have heard it said … but I say to you…” Basically, in all of these instructions, Jesus is taking the old Jewish law and cranking it up a notch. We heard that anger, vengeance and libel are as disastrous as murder. We heard that lust is as morally reprehensible as adultery. Today’s take on the formula is a bit different. It’s more of a positive expression. We are not to love only our neighbor and hate our enemy, but instead we are to love everyone, just as God loves all of us.
In our first reading, we see what’s at stake here. Ahab had murdered poor Naboth and taken his vineyard. He hated his enemy enough to kill him and steal his ancestral heritage. But the Lord noticed what happened, and through the prophet Elijah brings the consequences of Ahab’s evil to bear. But because Ahab repented of his evil, God does not bring the evil upon him, but does vow to bring it during the reign of his son. Which is kind of bad news for his son, I guess.
God is a God of justice, and no evil deed can go unpunished. The problem, though, is that we don’t have to be as conniving as Ahab to merit the wrath of God. We are all sinners, and in justice, there must be punishment. But, thanks be to God, he sent his Son Jesus Christ into our world to take our sins upon himself and suffer the punishment we so richly deserve. We have been granted grace and mercy through Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, and it’s a debt we cannot hope to repay.
But we redeemed and forgiven people have a command from Jesus today: “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We must strive for perfection in our thoughts, words and deeds. Will we get there completely? Not this side of heaven, I think. But many saints have come very close by joining themselves to Jesus and showing mercy to their brothers and sisters. Perfection is the goal for all of us, the goal for all of us redeemed and forgiven sinners.