Jesus said, ‘You have heard it said to those of ancient times, “You shall not kill”; and “whoever kills shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of God; for God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as God is perfect.
In the Gospel of Matthew (5:43-48) Jesus reminds the crowd of the ancient Jewish law to love one’s neighbour. Jesus makes the point that it is easy to love our friends. Everyone does that- even the tax collectors! (Even in Jesus time, the tax department was not held in high esteem!) Jesus challenges the people to think about the Jewish law. Love your enemies. The irony is of course if we love our enemies, then they will no longer be our enemies. Jesus seems to be pushing the people to widen their idea of neighbour. Our idea of neighbour must extend beyond loving those who simply love us back.
And the challenge is extended.(5:21-26) You have heard it said in ancient times, You shall not kill another, but I say to you, even if you are angry with another, then go and sort it out. The message to the Jewish crowd in Jesus’ time and still for us today is to reach out to one another in friendship and love, to make connection with one another. We are encouraged to mend our broken relationships and to reach out to those from whom we might have been distanced or isolated.
Love your enemies, says Jesus. Recently, I had cause to ponder the idea of the enemy. I was fortunate enough to visit the Gallipolli Peninsula in Turkey, and stand on the beach at Anzac Cove, a place where thousands of young Australian men were sent to fight an enemy over one hundred years ago. Many lost their lives in a battle that they had no hope of winning.
On the day that I went to Anzac Cove, the weather was mild, the sea was dead calm and because there were very few people about it was very quiet. It seemed in stark contrast to the noise and horror shown by the films we have no doubt all seen, that depict the landing at Gallipolli. The noise of guns and shelling and screaming was over, the soldiers were no longer there, but more importantly, I was struck by the obvious fact that the Turkish people are certainly no longer our enemies. I couldn’t help but think if only those young soldiers, or more especially their commanders could have seen today the friendship and hospitality that is shared between Turkey and Australia, they might wonder about the purpose of war. Despite the horror that did take place during the April of 1915, peace and friendship has been restored between our nations.
Several days after visiting Gallipolli I passed a man in the street in the old city of Istanbul who called out to me, “Where are you from?” I called back, “Australia” at which he looked me straight in the eye and replied, “Ah, Gallipolli” and placed his hand over his heart. It is a moment I will never forget. In a single gesture he had conveyed so much to me. We had made a connection and not a trivial one.
What a renewed place our world would be if we could accept differences as a positive quality; if we could feel enriched by the differences of others instead of threatened by them. The beauty and diversity of the world is surely diminished if we have expectations that people will all follow the same religion, or all speak the same language, or all dress in the same way. Rather I think our lives are enriched by difference and by appreciating understandings, or ideas that are new to us.