But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.
“But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (verses 27-28)
Already the opening words of Jesus let us “swallow” inwardly. After Jesus has expressed his “woe” to the rich and full in the Gospel of the last Sunday, he now turns again to his listeners, i.e. his disciples, who have decided to follow him. This new commandment of Jesus, namely that of loving one's enemies, is therefore meant for Jesus' disciples and not for those who are on the sidelines, who have not decided for Christ and have not allowed this divine virtue of love. The fulfillment of this main commandment is not possible for them, but only for his disciples and those who follow him willingly. Only those who have said yes to hardships and persecutions, and who were praised as blessed by Jesus in the Gospel of the last Sunday, are able to respond to this commandment of Jesus. That is why the last Gospel precedes it.
The phrase “I say to you…” is not the word of any rabbi, master, or teacher, but it is the word of authority of the teacher par excellence. And this word of authority now demands that the answer to evil should not be evil on its part. Rather, evil is to be overcome by good, by love.
By love, the Greek “agapein” (αγαπειν) here expressly denotes not human but divine love, a divine capacity for love, as Jesus also proclaims in John 15:9: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” For human love, human sympathy, in Greek stands “philein” (φιλειν). This divine “agapein” (αγαπειν) is also found in John 13:34: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” So again, this is not a love of human power or human choice, but it is the divine virtue of love. God enables me to have this love. That is why He can require me even to love my enemies - because He gives me this capacity to love. But this divine virtue of love is infused into us in baptism. This is the “agape” (αγαπη) - “agapein” (αγαπειν). In this respect, this commandment of love of enemies is understandable precisely from the behavior of the crucified Lord. Jesus, from the cross, forgave those who crucify him: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34), that is loving your enemies.
“To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.” (verse 29)
This word of Jesus is of course also connected with the loving your enemies. To let oneself be striped to the skin, as Jesus expresses it here, is actually an exaggerated way of speaking in order to underline the seriousness of this demanded readiness to endure injustice. For evil can only be repaid with good by those who allow themselves to be stripped to their skin. We like to say: I will not let myself be exploited. But then we will never be able to love as Jesus demands. Just as God's love allows itself to be exploited, we must also accept being exploited. Otherwise, this love of the enemy is not possible. Only those who allow themselves to be exploited to the utmost and are even prepared to accept greater injustice can repay evil with good. This is the ability that God has placed within us, the divine virtue of love.
Perhaps one could put a second thought into this word: If the other person knew everything that I have already done evil against him, talked about him or thought about him - wouldn't I then actually deserve two slaps in the face, not just one? Actually, he is still very mild to me. He gives me only one slap because he does not know everything that I have already missed against him. This, too, is part of self-knowledge: I have always taken more from the other person in terms of honor and recognition, etc., than just a coat. Wouldn't I even have to let him have the shirt?
But the deepest thought always ties in with this “blessed are the poor”: It is this really total “being stripped” to the skin, this willingness to endure injustice. When I no longer hold on to anything because I have everything in Christ, then I am blessed. And there it becomes clear again: This can only be done by the one who has completely committed himself to Christ, the disciple who has found everything in Christ. Only he can accept this power of love of the enemy.
“Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (verses 30-31)
Giving to the one who asks without asking for it back – whoever acts in this way obviously no longer has any interest in his own ego. He has given himself completely to Christ. He has, so to speak, lovingly given himself up completely and experiences his fulfillment. In such a person, the hope in God, who creates justice, is so alive that he can do without his own justice. The Lord is my advocate. The Spirit of God, whom he has sent to me, is my advocate and my all. Such love takes evil to the heart, and crushes it, so to speak. This is the pinnacle of being a Christian. Let us imagine that we would live more consciously towards this goal, knowing that the divine virtue of love is in us - what would it look like among us then, not only in the world, but especially among us Christians? For that is the annoyance of the world, that it often looks quite different among us Christians than Jesus demands of us, but also wants to give us in this divine love of virtue. How often we do not even take advantage of this love.
“What you expect from others, do likewise to them” – this is the so-called Golden Rule: You should love your neighbor as yourself, do to the other what you would like to do for yourself, and do it to all people, not just to your brother or neighbor. Not only those who are close to us, but everyone is meant! The Golden Rule is a universal rule and means all people.
“For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount.” (verses 32-34)
In these three negatively formulated sentences it is expressed that good deeds, which only answer received good deeds, are actually nothing special and that those who act in this way have nothing to expect from God. If I only do good on the condition that I get it back again, if possible even twice or three times – then this has nothing to do with Christianity. Because that's what sinners do, too. That is why we must not expect anything from God, because before Him such things are worthless. The love meant by Jesus is the creative love of God, not the one that always expects something in return for everything.
“But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” (verse 35)
At this point Jesus almost summarizes his commandment once again. It now seems quite clear and is outrageously novel. Jesus holds out the prospect of a great reward: “You will be children of God.” – that's incredible. What he holds out to us here is future and eternity. The disciple is to look forward to God, and fellowship with God is to be so important to him that the highest commitment on earth is worth it. However, the motivation should not be the thought of reward, according to the motto: I put in everything so that I get something; but the real motivation should be the love in which we imitate God as children of God. If we are children of God, then we are imitators of God, and this God does everything out of love and not because of the reward. And that is the crucial thing, that we do it out of love for God.
But is that how it is for us? Do we live according to it? Is communion with God so important to me that the highest commitment is worthwhile for me here on earth?
“Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” (verses 36-38)
The merciful love is the innermost nature of God. In this respect, the imitation of God becomes quite clear in this demand of Jesus. Mercy is the most decisive thing. Mercy, says St. Hildegard of Bingen, is the remedy for soul and body. The mercy of God is something unfathomable. Jesus says to St. Faustina: “All the angels in heaven and all the creatures on earth for all eternity will never comprehend the depth and greatness of my mercy.” This makes it clear what a difficult task this “be merciful” confronts us with.
Then Jesus shows us a wonderful rule: We can determine for ourselves the measure with which God showers us. What mercy is, is now shown, as it were, in these images: in forgiving, in giving, in not judging. It is really about everyday judging and criticizing! Let's think about whom we have already criticized and judged today, perhaps in our thoughts. Maybe I just saw someone and immediately made a judgment about them. Have I talked to someone about a third party? We can't make a fair judgment because we don't know the other person's heart. We do not know their motivation, their weakness, their limitations, their history. Only God, who searches people's hearts, can make a righteous judgment. This is very, very important. Let us examine ourselves in this regard every day.
And then at the end of the Gospel this decisive promise of God: He will also be merciful to me in the same measure as I was merciful to all men without exception. Therefore, we should not just give, but give like God. We should give our love, our attention, simply everything that God has put at our disposal without measure, and accordingly we will be blessed by His love and mercy. God gives us here everything in the hand. We can determine for ourselves how God should and may be to us. ∎