Wholeness and Nonviolent Identity, part five

43”You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:43-48)

In Matt 5:43-48 there is an interesting point about being set apart as the people of God, having a unique identity, and nonviolence (as part of a larger emphasis on wholeness). Matthew clearly presupposes that the disciples who gather around Jesus should be different or have a unique identity, at least in relation to the love discussed. There are some sort of boundaries to other groups. The disciples should love in a way that makes them different from tax collectors and Gentiles: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (vv. 46-47).

But note also how that uniqueness is construed. It is by reaching beyond the boundaries of their own group that the disciples create their boundaries, that is, their unique identity as a group.[1] It is a paradox of love. They were to love even the enemy. The disciples of Jesus, then, should be set a part from the ”world” by the way they love: Their love should not stop at different boundaries whether they are religious, ethnic or anything else.

Perhaps a radical openness to and respect for the otherness of the other is only possible for the church if she seeks to be unique

Sometimes it seems as if a false dichotomy is set up in relation to being "set a part from the world". If you seek to be set a apart then you will inevitably be "sectarian." Such a dichotomy should be questioned on several grounds, but it is interesting that this text clearly overcomes it by claiming that a radical openness to and respect for the otherness of the other is only possible for the church if she seeks to be unique. That is, the church is a community of disciples who have committed themselves to a life in love enabled only by God's grace in Jesus. The uniqueness lies not in the fact that Jesus' disciples are inherently better, but that they have been caught up in God's unique world-transforming and self-giving love. Perhaps one could say that unless one accepts and seeks that uniqueness there will be no radical openness to the neighbor. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's claim comes to mind: Only through Christ is there a true relationship to the neighbor given the fact that we live in a fallen world.

This is part five of a series of blogs on the Sermon on the Mount.

Notes:
[1] Luise Schottroff, "Non-Violence and the Love of One’s Enemies," in Essays on the Love Commandment (ed. Luise Schottroff; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), 25.

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