"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ..." (Matt. 5:43-48)

“You have heard that it was said ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."(Matt. 5:43-48)

Is Jesus contradicting the teachings of the Old Testament?

Many state that Jesus was teaching something new, something not taught by the Prophets. Is this true? Did Jesus deny the teachings of the Prophets, or contradict them?

Certainly, we find many verses where Jesus quoted the Prophets, including Moses, David, Isaiah and others. Why would he contradict them?

Rather, Jesus is clarifying the meaning of the Prophets' teachings, and contrasting them with the teachings of those institutional temple teachers of the day that were bending and twisting scripture.

This is evidenced by the phrase:

"You have heard that it was said..."

We also see that Jesus is being critical of a misinterpretation of a particular verse, as he states:

You have heard that it was said ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’"

The passage Jesus is referring to is:
" 'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." (Lev. 19:18)
So we see that Jesus is merely clarifying the teachings of the Prophets instead of recklessnessly misquoting them out of context.

Is this a quid pro quo?

We can see that Jesus is showing how this passage has been misinterpreted to become: ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'

Thus we find that Jesus is not only confirming that this is not the teaching that was given by God and passed down through Moses. He is also confirming that God's statement illustrates unconditional mercy and compassion to others, not a quid pro quo.

In most contexts, quid pro quo means: If I do something for you, you do something for me.

But as this plays out in terms of religiosity, it can be taken as: I do something good for you as long as it helps me.

This is currently what passes for "love" in the physical world. Most of us only care about others when it is convenient to us or helpful to our own causes. Or we are compelled because it is our family or significant other. Yet Jesus is clarifying God's statement.

Jesus is stating that to "love your neighbor as yourself" doesn't mean to only love our neighbor when it is good for us, or convenient for us.

It means to provide this love without condition. Whether they are nice to us or not. Whether they care about us or not. Even whether they hurt us or not.

Is this about unconditional love?

Unconditional love is part of God’s Character: He is a loving, caring Person. While we may imagine His Character as strong and unbending, He is in fact, tolerant and forgiving. This Nature is supported by all the scriptures and is also evidenced by the fact that He accepts those who are fallen, and forgives when we ask for forgiveness.

This merciful characteristic of unconditional love and compassion is part of the Supreme Being's Personality.

Jesus wants his followers to as much as possible reflect this unconditional love that God has for us. He wants us to love others as God loves us.

In Genesis, it says we were created in ‘God’s image’. This means by nature, we have an innate capacity to love unconditionally - but only as a reflection of God's unconditional love.

In other words, we have no separate capacity. Our capacity to unconditionally love is connected to God's propensity. We have to be linked with the Supreme Being in order to have unconditional love for another.

While our real self is spiritual in quality, we have taken on these temporary material bodies because we have rebelled against God at some point. At that point of rebellion, we communicated to God that we wanted our independence from Him. We didn't want to participate in His happiness. We wanted our own happiness independent of Him.

The problem is that this is impossible. It is like a fish trying to survive outside of water. Let's say a fish landed on a pier and started flopping around. Could the fish ever be expected to just start swimming (flying) around in the air? Could it even survive outside of water for long? No, because the fish wasn't built that way. The fish was designed to swim in water.

In the same way, we have no capacity to unconditionally love another without ourselves receiving and connecting with the Supreme Being's unconditional love.

We might compare this to an extension cord. An extension cord could not provide electricity for an appliance unless it was plugged into a power source. In the same way, we cannot provide unconditional love without receiving it from the Supreme Being.

This is because the Supreme Being is the Source of unconditional love. Just as a power cord must be plugged into the power source, we must be exchanging a loving relationship with the Supreme Being in order to offer part of that love to others.

The irony of this situation is that in our original position as a loving servant of the Supreme Being, we reflect His loving nature. But as soon as we become self-centered, we in essence disconnect from that loving nature.

This is why Jesus said receiving forgiveness from God was related to our own forgiveness.

This is what took place for each of us when we rebelled against God's authority. We decided we wanted to enjoy like Him instead of being His loving servant.

This choice required our departure from Him — away from the 'garden' into this virtually separated physical world.

Why the need for a virtually separate world? Certainly, we cannot pretend to be God - the center of attention and the central enjoyer - while He was still around. We cannot pretend to be God if we see Him everywhere we go. He would be impossible to ignore if we were in His presence.

The Supreme Being designed temporary physical bodies and false identities so we could focus on our own enjoyment and forget His existence for a while. He designed this world to give us the freedom to love Him or not, along with an environment set up to teach us about love.

Here Jesus requests his students and disciples to choose to resume their original position and their relationship with the Supreme Being. This and only this will allow us to reflect that unconditional love the Supreme Being has for us, to others. This is precisely why Jesus connected "love your neighbor" with "love the Lord your God" in his most important instruction:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matt. 22:37-39)