Hell is not my neighbour- 1st Week of Lent- Saturday-Matthew 5: 43-48
So Jesus’ run in with the Pharisees continues. It was the Pharisees who interpreted the Torah for four hundred years, in the absence of the prophets, unto the time of Jesus. In their zeal to be mediators between God and man, they got the law wrong and the spirit completely wrong. For Jesus the law was the lowest common denominator. His expectation from a Christian was always, more! And so Matthew chapter 5 plays out these six hyper theses, the call for more! Today’s Gospel plays out the last of the six hyper theses.
The Pharisees had interpreted the law concerning ones relationship with regard to neighbours and enemies in the most conveniently contrived way. They mandated that one was to love ones neighbour and hate ones enemy. Interestingly, the ‘popular quote’ interpreted by the Pharisees and lived by the Jews, was itself, an incomplete presentation of what the law really said.
Leviticus 19:18, the source of this ‘popular saying’ on neighbours and enemies actually called for the love of neighbour to be in the same measure as one loved oneself, a section conveniently omitted by the Pharisees. Further, there was no reference, anywhere in the law, about hating ones enemy; again an addition brought in by the Pharisees. So the Pharisees had done a very convenient cut and paste job.
So what was the agenda of the Pharisees? Why mislead the people with half-truths? In limiting love to one’s neighbour, the Pharisees effectively limited the understanding of ones neighbour only to a fellow Jew and by doing that they officially signalled that all non-Jews were the enemy, who could be hated. This was nothing but state sponsored hate.
This narrow ethnocentric frame work exists even today. Sadly, we see it lived out in distinctions made on the basis of race, colour, nationality and religion. The shrill voices of world leaders ‘TRUMpeting’ such philosophies, grows globally, and all in the name of nationalism. Make no mistake; the bigots exist on the other side too and often take the form of terror in the name of God; whatever ‘God’ they have cultivated in their head. Such a mandate to hate our neighbour, leads to a bigoted human existence and our world is too fragile for bigots. The Pharisees come alive, all over again.
The call of Jesus to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us is not some ‘hopeless idealism but a wise strategy for overcoming the persecutor.’ The heroic stance of the martyr gives the persecutor a ‘bad image’ and is hard for governments to control. ‘Shaming with love’, that was Jesus strategy and that is seen in the early Christian martyrs who gave late antiquity a bad conscience.
Our ‘reward’ if any, must be in the belief that in the eyes of God, we are called to be perfect. This perfection is not to be misunderstood as not having any fault but rather a Christian calling to be blameless or holy before the Lord, in our dealings with our neighbour. If our love is limited to those of our own race, mind-set or faith, then we have already received an ‘earthly reward’. We receive only the love of the person who is of the same mind as we are. But if we love those who hate us, our reward is an increase in God’s love.
Fr Warner D’souza
With much inspiration from and acknowledgment to the author of the JBC
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