Called to the Perfection of Love

Scripture Reading

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers and sisters only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
(Matthew 5:43-48)

Scripture Study

5:43 love your neighbor: A reference to Lev 19:18. Jesus considers it one of the two great commandments of the Mosaic Law (22:39). Unlike Jesus, however, some Jews held a narrow interpretation of neighbor, restricting it only to one’s fellow Israelite (cf. Lk 10:29–37) (CCC 1933). hate your enemy: Probably a reference to Israel’s warfare laws in Deut 20. Because Gentiles in Canaan worshiped false gods, they were enemies of God. Moses thus called Israel to exterminate them under Joshua and the Judges, lest Israel imitate their idolatry (cf. Ex 23:32–33; Ps 139:19–22). Against this background, Jesus counters Jewish disdain for Gentiles who continue to live in Palestine. He broadens the meaning of neighbor to include Gentiles, even their Roman persecutors. The Father’s impartial treatment of all people is a model for Christian mercy (5:45).

5:48 You … must be perfect: Jesus advocates moral righteousness higher than the Old Covenant—it is a standard of mercy. Just as Israel was to imitate God in being “holy” (Lev 19:2), so Jesus calls the Church to imitate God’s perfect compassion (Lk 6:36). The Father is kind and merciful to the good and evil alike, so his children must extend mercy even to their enemies (5:7; Lk 10:29–37; Jas 2:13).

Scripture Reflection

Mere outward observance of the law does not produce love. Imagine a couple that merely kept the Ten Commandments in their marriage, saying: “Our marriage is wonderful. We don’t steal from each other, lie to each other, or cheat on each other. And we haven’t even killed each other yet!” Would that make an ideal marriage? Of course not. God does not want spouses simply to avoid hurting one another. He wants them to grow in love.

And that is what God desires for all his disciples. Certainly, we should avoid doing things that directly hurt other people, such as killing, adultery, and lying. Obeying the moral law is a necessary minimum. But in order to live as members of God’s kingdom, we need to do more. True disciples need to cultivate the inner attitudes and dispositions that transform the heart and build up love, such as the kind of patience, meekness, purity, and mercy that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. This is why Jesus calls us to go beyond external conformity to the requirements of the law and imitate the perfect love of the heavenly Father, who is love himself.

The love to which Jesus calls us is beyond the capacity of our fallen human nature, but the gift of the Spirit received through faith and the sacraments makes it possible. Jesus summons us to a heavenly way of life; the saints show that it is possible to live this way on earth.

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.