Sketchy Scenes: Reflections on Matthew 5:38-48
But Jesus doesn't offer any of these common sense motivators with regard to non-retaliation or love of enemies. This is the only motivation we are given: we are to practice non-resistance when personally insulted and to love our enemies because such behavior is in keeping with the character of God who gave the Law (Mt. 5:45) (Reid, 40-41). In obeying the heart of the Law in this radical way, Christians become perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5:48). Perfect, not in the sense of sinless, but in the sense intended by the Greek teleios, complete, mature (Reid, 41).
If we are looking for practical, positive motivations to act in the odd ways of Matthew 5:38-42, there are no words that can convince. There is just the most extreme of sketchy scenes. He who taught us the prayer "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," during his life prays "Father, forgive them," as he hangs dying on a cross (Lk. 23:34).
Later New Testament passages connect the behavior and character of Jesus with that of God and base the command to love one another on the love shown by God through the Incarnation and sacrificial death of the Son (Eph. 5:1-2; 1 Pt. 1:13-25; 1 Jn. 4:7-12).
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us (1 Jn. 4:7-12).
I don't know about you, but I will never be able to jump as high as Dirk Nowitski. The witness of scripture is that, with God's help, we can practice non-retaliation when personally insulted and we can act in loving, forgiving, welcoming ways toward our enemies.
Dale C. Allison, The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination (Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999)
Alyce M. McKenzie, Hear and Be Wise: Becoming a Preacher and Teacher of Wisdom (Abingdon Press, 2004)
Alyce McKenzie, Preaching Proverbs: Wisdom for the Pulpit (Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)
Barbara E. Reid, The Gospel of Matthew, The New Collegeville Bible Commentary (Liturgical Press, 2005)
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.