Dave Brisbin 10.22.23
In the last line of Matthew 5, Jesus says, therefore be perfect as God in heaven is perfect. Wow. Hearing that for the first time, would it spur you to work harder? Try to hit imagined thresholds? Or feel completely defeated? Shake your head and walk away? Most of us know we’re not perfect, that the human condition doesn’t allow, so exactly what is he asking?

Since Jesus said, “therefore,” we need to go back and see what that’s there for… Therefore connects back to the entire chapter as the how of this perfection, but especially to the immediate passage in which Jesus tells us to love our enemies. How are we supposed to love what we hate and what hates us? The original language helps. Enemy is not just a malicious adversary, but one who is not of our tribe, someone we don’t know, understand, trust, like.

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We’re to love our enemies as we love our neighbors—those close to us in proximity and relationship—and love our neighbors as ourselves, which still doesn’t imply affection, but at least basic human decency. Still, that word love trips us up. Even showing basic decency to those we consider indecent is too much. But there are two words for love that Jesus uses in Aramaic. When he says love your neighbor, he uses rehem, which is a love full of affection and devotion that flows as if from a deep wellspring. And when he says love your enemy, he uses ahab, which literally means to kindle a fire: gather dry, dead twigs and ruffage, carefully spark and blow and guard until a warming fire burns.

Loving our enemies is a process of becoming someone who experiences growing a love never thought possible with someone always thought unlovable. Such an impossibility comes as a perfect moment, a connection beyond those we normally experience that changes our view of love and life. Jesus is saying that even in our imperfection, we can feel our love, our decency, falling like sun and rain on those who deserve it or not, for whom we feel affection or not…just as perfectly as God’s. It’s a momentary union of imperfection and perfection, an experience of perfect love that can grow into a character that defines.


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