A Self-Donating Love.
Carl Sandburg, the American poet and novelist once wrote, “Love your neighbor as yourself; but don’t take down the fence”. That’s how the Jews had interpreted the law to love thy neighbor. A law they believed had limits and which then gave them permission to hate their enemies. Their understanding of love was driven by self-interest instead of God’s self-donating love.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount brings a new and deeper understanding of what it means to be a Kingdom Christian and it is unnatural. It is much more natural to abide by the principles of the kingdom of this world which at best encourages us to ignore our enemies. But God’s Kingdom calls us to an unnatural love – a love of enemies – a self-donating love.
Jesus points out that His heavenly Father loves His enemies everyday. He gives sunlight and sends rain on the evil and the unjust. He has every right to withhold that common grace to the unrighteous but instead He shows mercy and patience. Anyone can love a lover, even corrupt tax collectors do that much. It’s natural. So Jesus asks us, what more are you doing than that? How are you different than the pagans who are kind to their friends?
The one thing that sets Christianity apart from all other religions is the love of Jesus Christ who went patiently and obediently to the cross. The cross is the peculiar, extraordinary, unnatural hallmark of the Christian religion. A distinction that is displayed in the self-donating love of enemies. A love that prays for those who persecute us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God….so long as we pray for them, we are doing vicariously for them what they can not do for themselves”. Can we imagine how things might be different if the politicians who claim to be followers of Christ prayed for their opponents, if pro-lifers prayed for Planned Parenthood, if our soldiers prayed for the Taliban, if Blacks and Whites prayed for each other? It would be unnatural but this self-donating love, this acting like true children of our Father in heaven, just might allow the world to see more of God’s coming Kingdom.