A businessman was going to be away from home for a few days to visit clients in Europe. As he was saying goodbye to his children, he said to the eldest, who’d be about 11 or 12, that whilst Dad was away, he had a special responsibility to look after Mum and the little ones … in fact he said, ‘I’m hoping you’ll do your very best whilst I’m not here to do all the things I usually do.’
In Dad’s mind were some of the domestic chores for which he usually took responsibility; taking the rubbish out for the dustmen, loading and emptying the dishwasher each day, sorting out the recycling and so on.
When the man came home, after he’d given his wife a nice hug, a beautiful bunch of flowers and checked that all was well with her and with the children, he asked how the eldest had got on …
‘Well it was quite strange,’ she replied. ‘Each morning after breakfast, he went into the lounge, made himself a cup of coffee (I didn’t even think he liked coffee!), turned the radio on really loud and sat reading the paper for half an hour while the rest of us did all the chores!’
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.’
Think about this phrase in our reading ‘… that you may be children of your Father in heaven’ … I wonder to what extent we live out our own lives as a reflection of the life of our heavenly Father.
As you’re probably well aware, in this teaching, Jesus has been calling for a radical discipleship – he wants those who are serious about following Him not only to think differently about the Messiah, but to live differently as his disciples.
In seeking to fulfil the Law and the Prophets, Jesus challenges all who hear him to go much further than they’ve gone before. For instance:
Ø not only is murder condemned; now, so too are murderous intentions
Ø not only is committing adultery forbidden; so too now are lustful thoughts …
Ø and in the new Kingdom that Jesus is bringing in:
Ø we’re to love our enemies instead of hating
Ø to bless and not curse
Ø do good to those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us.
Whereas we all sometimes find our lives filled with rage, jealousy and hatred, Jesus calls us to a different approach in which gentleness, grace and generosity of spirit are what he requires.
Of course these are only examples, and we all need to consider for ourselves how in practice God may want us to reflect his generous love in our ordinary, everyday lives … but the key thing is to understand the principle … what He wants us to do is … , ‘Love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us, so that we may be children of your Father in heaven.’
If we claim God as our Father, how does He want us to live in relationship with our brothers and sisters … some of whom, if we’re honest, we find it hard to like, let alone love! As we live out our Christian calling in the life of this institution, in our families, with our friends … how are we to be sons and daughters of our Father in heaven?
Immensely challenging! Most of us find it hard to live out our faith consistently in this kind of way. When we’re tired, when people don’t always understand, or jab away at our weak points seeking to provoke or antagonize … most of us I guess find it very easy to respond in kind when the going gets tough … someone starts an argument, we argue back, someone is vindictive towards us, we retaliate …
… but the easy way was rarely the way of Jesus … when the crowds mocked, he ignored them, when he was challenged he told stories to encourage them to think differently, when He was struck, He took the pain; when they nailed him to the cross, He prayed for them.
And before I finish, we should note that Jesus’s teaching tells us not only about how he wants us to live; it shows us a kind of template for his own life. He is the Son of His Father in heaven, and its to such a relationship of intimacy and love that he calls each one of us … and he longs for us to discover more of what that means, especially as we seek to reflect his love in a world that needs to discover it so badly.
Many people tell me that one of my poor daughters looks very much like me – and despite the fact that she has beautiful thick curly red hair and looks a million dollars – I do know what they mean.
If we’re children of our Heavenly Father, is the family likeness being seen? Jesus calls us to a radical discipleship, that his likeness, and his Father’s likeness is seen in us.
‘Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.’
May God the Spirit pour His love into our hearts, that the likeness of Christ be seen in us, for His glory. Amen.
Ven. Andy Piggott, Archdeacon of Bath
14th October 2007