Way back in November, I shut down a series on the Sermon on the Mount to get ready for Advent and Christmas. Today I want to resume that series. Today we look at Matthew 5:43-48. Most know this passage as the “love your enemies” passage. Good term, but the “enemy” is almost surely the “Gentile” and the “Gentile” is the person whom we have made the Other. Jesus summons us to love the “other-ed” one — the one whom we have turned into the Other, the one over against we define ourselves. This is a vicious cycle endemic to humans: we define ourselves in such way that we exclude others, and then we put down the others because they don’t fit our definition of who we are.
But, Jesus calls us (1) to know whom we are defining as the Other, and (2) to love the Other and (3) walk away from treating them as the Enemy. Our world is aglow with Otherness and with Enemy-ness and Self-defining-ness, and the task overwhelms at undoing the Other Cycle. But, we can begin today, right where we are by (1) figuring out whom we define as the Other and (2) stopping our Other-ing of Others and (3) learning to love the Other by welcoming them to our table of fellowship. (I suggest thinking for some time now about whom we are “othering.”)
Why should we do this? Because, as Jesus says, we are to love them because God loves them. If you want to be a “son of the Father”, or a “child” of the Father (forgive me, ESV folks, but this is an indisputable case of inclusiveness), then you will need to act like God: since God provides each of us, Self and Other, with sun and rain, then we need to stand with God in treating each as one whom God loves.
Othering involves sectarian striving: “if you love those who love you” is the expression Jesus uses. What this means is loving others who define themselves as you define youself, and hating those whom you and others have Other-ed.
And here’s the clincher: “be perfect,” Jesus says, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Many get all hung up here on whether or not “perfect” means “complete” or “sinlessness” or “whole” — all well adn good. Luke uses the term “merciful.” Why? The issue is not finding a way to minimize the word “perfect” but learning that the key word is “as.” Love others as God loves them. The whole point is this: God’s ways with humans are to be our ways. Our ways are to be compared to God’s ways, and that means a full-stop to Other-ing.
And here’s another clincher: just as folks get tied into knots about what “perfect” means, so they get into debates about just which group Jesus might be pointing his finger at in the “hate your enemy” — for that line is not from the Old Testament. Same point to be made, I’d say: surely, this is the Essenes (for they have a whole scroll about this, called 1QM. But, by Other-ing the Essenese we excuse ourselves, which is precisely contrary to what Jesus was saying.
What we need is some time to think about those whom we are Other-ing and we need to invite them to the table for some “Us-ing.”