Do not seek revenge, or bear a grudge for wrong done to thee by thy fellow-citizens; thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; thy Lord is his.
God is clearly not interested in our grudges or in our desires for revenge against those who wrong us. Instead, God longs for us to love one another in the same way we love ourselves. He wants us to recognize that our fellow-citizens belong to Him, too. They are His just as we are. God is like the parent who says, “Don’t spank my kid for me, please. I’m perfectly capable of disciplining my own child –” except in our case, we are also a child of the same parent.
If you live in a glass house, you ought not to throw stones at your neighbor even if his house is also made of glass.
Jesus starts out by telling His disciples ( and us ) that He gives them ( and us ) something new; He gives them ( yes, and us ) a new commandment. Odd, I thought God never changes. At any rate, Jesus Himself says that this commandment is new.
“A new commandment give I unto you…”
Unlike the old way, we are not to take an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth. We are not to retaliate. Rather we are to forgive and yes – forget by loving one another. This other-worldly, beyond-human love is what distinguishes us from the rest of the fallen world. Listen to Jesus tell His disciples ( and us ) the new commandment is:
that ye love one another: as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know, that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Love each other, says Paul. Love each other in the same way you love your siblings — with a brotherly or sisterly affection. “Outdo one another in showing honor.”
Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” (Romans 12: 14) “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” (Romans 12: 17)
And, he writes: “Let love be genuine.”
And, “Hold fast to what is good.”
Holding fast to the good is such a map for happiness. If you see the good in the other, then you are able to bless the other even as he curses you. If you see the good in the moment, then you will not repay evil for evil. Instead you will do what is perceived as honorable to all. Such a paradox exists in the Christian walk. We walk by faith, hoping for that which is unseen. Our hope is that good will outdo evil, that perfection will triumph over imperfection, that God will be triumphant over the evil one.
And of course God is triumphant and good does overcome evil. Perfection does overwhelm imperfection, and holiness swallows sin.
Therefore, let your love be true. Hold fast to the good. “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
Jesus acknowledges that under the old covenant, hating one’s enemy is expected. Retribution is the rule, not the exception — ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ (Matthew 5: 38) Today, Islam lives under this same rule of retribution. But, under the new covenant which Jesus introduces to His disciples and followers, Jesus calls them and us to “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us], so that [we] may be sons of [our] Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 43 – 44)
Jesus calls us to perfection. In us there must be no evil intention, no thought or act of hatred or revenge. If we only love those who love us, “what reward do [we] have?” (Matthew 5: 46)
How do we love the man who murders our child? How do we love the woman who steals our husband? How do we love the drunk driver who totals our car? How do we love the colleague who cheats on his taxes? How do we love the neighbor who plays music so loudly it makes our floors vibrate? How do we love the driver who cuts us off in traffic and nearly causes a needless accident? How do we love the person in the grocery store who drops a jar of jelly and walks away without a thought?
I maintain we don’t. I maintain that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Living God, loves these individuals through us. Hence Jesus asks us to “be perfect, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 48)