|This morning, the sun is shining on everyone . . . in Rosthern, at least|
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (Matthew 5: 44-46)
Interpretation, elucidation, discernment. Wrestling the true, intended meaning from a text.
The above passage quoting Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount may seem simple at first reading. I’m not sure, though, that I’ve ever discerned its full intent, especially if I consider what “loving your enemies” does to the meaning of the words love and enemies.
Unfortunately, furthermore, I can’t think of anyone in this world that is truly my enemy. Perhaps if I was a Christian living in Darfur, Nigeria, South Sudan or Egypt, or a Muslim in New York City, it might not be so hard to think about an enemy to love and pray for.
The temptation, therefore, is to apply it to someone else, not to me.
And what about context? How would the first hearers of this difficult passage comprehend it? How would Jesus have said it if he had been preaching to us . . . today?
And what is this about rewards? Is it for the achieving of rewards that one loves? That can’t be the intended message, can it?
And since we don’t have the tax collectors mentioned here as symbols of the dregs of our communities, what career choice would render the same meaning? Drug dealer? Prostitute?
There are plenty of excuses available to render this passage incomprehensible or impossible to apply.
Try on these two possible images of the gospel for size:
1) The world is a sea. The gospel is a life boat. We are all drowning except that some have been pulled into the lifeboat and their task now is to pull as many as are willing into the lifeboat with them; to save them, in other words.
2) The world is a sea. All of humanity is in a ship on this dangerous ocean. Some are “chosen” to be the crew on this ship, their task to enable everyone to reach the destination safely, although some go too near the rail and are washed overboard, some jump and others are saboteurs, but the “chosen” do what they can to guide humanity to the safety of the harbour.
Implied in the metaphor of “thinking as children of the creator” is a hurdle that’s understandably difficult for us to spring over, namely the blessing of the “righteous” and the “unrighteous,” the “good” and the “evil:” indiscriminately. It seems to point toward the second example above: we’re all in the same boat.
Or is this pushing the metaphor beyond what was intended?
It may seem at times that the Creator could better meet the objective of a safe harbour for all his children by raining selectively on only the righteous; that way the unrighteous would see their errors, their “evil” deeds would not bring them prosperity and they would change their ways. But every farmer knows (this is actually an agricultural metaphor) that where and when the rain falls is not influenced by the “righteousness” or “unrighteousness” of the region in question; it works on a model of indifference in that regard, apparently.
Without going too far afield into the conflicting notions of how much or how little the Creator actually interferes in the chaotic circumstances of our lives, in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, at least, we are meant to see creation as more than us versus them. If us versus them is the way we choose to see the world, then we are obviously harrowing its people with a finer-toothed harrow than the Creator him/herself. At least as regards sun and rain.
If you and I had control of where and when it rains, where and when the sun shines, what principles would govern OUR choices?