Justice for Enemies 5:43-48
Jesus isn’t really arguing with the Talmudic traditions here. He’s arguing with common Pharisaical behavior. It’s hard to find anything resembling “hate your enemies” except perhaps in the Qumran Scrolls, where the Qumran community taught something like that. But it isn’t hard to find Talmudic teachings that suggest Gentiles are to be treated as animals, not people. It’s kind of schizophrenic, because the Talmud has teachings that mention the righteous among Gentiles, but we know that there was a strong element of spite during Jesus’ day. This was extended to Jews who bought into the Roman tax-farming system — paying up front a certain flat fee to Roman officials for the legal right to collect that back with interest from their own people. Such tax collectors were treated as traitors.
What Moses actually said was that your enemies should receive equal justice. It’s commanded in several places, including that strong statement in Proverbs about shaming those who are abusive to you (25:21-22). It’s not a matter of “being nice” — it’s a matter of being just regarding human need. You can afford to be gracious to those who are tightwads with their mercy.
Thus, Jesus is using standard Hebrew hyperbole, interpreting how the Pharisees acted when He suggests His audience had been told to hate their enemies. It’s a valid rhetorical tool in Hebrew culture; He did that often enough that it shouldn’t raise an eyebrow. Matthew selects the Greek term agape, commonly implying kindness and compassion, a sacrificial love. The focus is on divine justice, the moral character of God that open hearts can discern in all of Creation.
Thus, He starts by pointing out a range of ways to climb above the petty hostility so typical of the human race. Don’t respond in kind; don’t let their hostility infect your soul. Be the strong one. That’s how genuine Children of God handle things. There’s that feudalism again; learn to act like someone who operates in the power of a great and mighty sheikh. Have you noticed that His divine provision doesn’t wait for someone to get right, but stands there established and waiting for souls to move toward it? Don’t take the abuse personally. They treat God that way, too.
Then Matthew translates Jesus’ words about compassion and giving that formal Hebrew greeting with the hugging and familial kiss on the cheek. In our Western cultural context it’s like shaking hands, for example. If you treat that like a special greeting in a closed society, you are no better than those tax-collecting “traitors.” Don’t do it like you are too stupid to discern who your enemies are, but do it like someone who is too strong to be pulled down. Shame them by your moral strength. Where divine justice reigns, people tend to change. If they act like a beast, pull them out of the mud pit, or help them rise under their heavy load of life.
Finally, Jesus pointedly says we should be of the same moral character and maturity as the Father. Would you like to restore the Covenant and welcome the Messiah? Create a home for Him in your life, a place that reminds Him of Heaven.