Late one night, a truck driver pulled into a roadside café for a little something to eat. As he was eating, three nasty looking motor-cyclists noisily strutted in and made their way to the bar. For some reason, they gravitated toward the truck driver. One poured a little salt on his head. Another knocked his pie onto the floor and the third managed to knock his coffee off the counter and into his lap. The truck driver said nothing, paid his bill and made his exit.
“That dude was not much of a fighter,” sneered one of the cyclists once they were seated in their booth. The waiter peered out of the window onto the dark parking lot and answered. “He’s not much of a driver either. He just ran over three motorcycles.”
We all chuckle at that story, because there is something in us that rejoices when nasty people get paid back for their nastiness. But I have to wonder if that very chuckle also reveals the part of our hearts that has not completely believed or trusted today’s gospel message.
I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father…
And if that is not enough, Jesus finishes this part of the discourse with:
Be perfect as your father is perfect.
“Woooof! Who can do that?” we think. Who has that kind of love, who can achieve that kind of perfection? We think of perfect as infallible, as making no mistakes, as being flawless, as being without sin or error. And certainly that is one understanding of the word which we translate as ‘perfect.’ But the root of the Greek word we translate is from the root word telos – meaning literally – the end. It carries undertones of completion, of fullness, of the reason why something exists. So, hear that phrase again in light of Jesus’ command to love our enemies.
“Be geared toward the end of things, their goal, the final meaning, their fullness, just as I am geared toward this world’s end, this world’s goal, this world’s finality.”
And what is that goal? That we should become children of our heavenly Father. That we should know, as we heard in Leviticus, what it is to be holy as God is holy. And to flesh that out, Jesus tells us what God’s perfection, what God’s end vision is all about. “He makes the sun to shine on the good and bad alike. The rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” It is a longing in the heart of our Father that all might know his love. That all might know a mercy that flows from him. That all might know the grace that sets them free to flourish and grow into the people he called them to be… And so God will not be limited to, or frustrated by our response to his grace. He is simply going to love us into life. That is his goal for us. That is his meaning, his purpose for our end. And for God to be God, then he will constantly be working toward that end – so that we will know His love for us.
And because Jesus wants us to know that great freedom that he knows, that he wants us to enjoy what it means to be God in human expression, to the limit of our ability to do that, he invites us to simply love as he loves.
Pick an enemy. Any enemy! It could be your son or daughter these days. It could be your spouse. It could be the president or our governor or the Shah of Iran or the dictator of Syria. Lord knows, we are a divided enough country and world these days to know that there are a lot of enemies out there. And just pray for them. Just do what Jesus asks us to do.
You see, once we start to do that, once we start thinking about the telos, the end God has in mind for each of his creatures, then the very process of praying for them, moves us closer to becoming exactly who God wants US to be – people who let our love shine on the good and bad, who rain down upon the just and the unjust.
“He was not much of a fighter,” they cyclist sneered. “Nor was he much of a driver,’ the waiter answered. Might it never be said of us: “We were not much of a Christian.”
Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.