"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ..." (Matthew 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." (Leviticus 19:18)
This indicates that Jesus is clarifying the teachings of the Prophets.

Is this a quid pro quo?

Jesus' statement is also showing how this teaching from Moses had been misinterpreted to become: ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'

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

What is 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.

But in sectarianism, we find a darker application: If you are not with us, you are against us.

Often we find that quid pro quo passes for "love" in the physical world. Most of us care about others when it is convenient to us or helpful to our own causes or sects. Or we are compelled because it is our family or significant other. 

Jesus is clarifying this teaching.

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.

Jesus is stating that 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. God's nature is supported by all the scriptures and is also evidenced by His accepting and mercy upon those who are fallen. 

His nature is evidenced by His mercy: He 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 others.

While our real self is spiritual in quality, we have taken on these temporary material bodies because we rebelled against God at some point. At that point of rebellion, we communicated 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, this is impossible. It is like a fish trying to be happy outside of water. Let's say a fish jumped onto a pier and started flopping around. Could the fish ever have a life outside of water? 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 being connected 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 pure state, we reflect God's loving nature. But as soon as we become self-centered, we disconnect from that loving nature.

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

The Supreme Being designed temporary physical bodies and false identities so we could have the freedom to grow and evolve spiritually - or decide not to. The forgetfulness of our true nature gives us the complete freedom to decide our direction. Do we want to reconnect with the Supreme Being and reflect His love? Or do we want to live out our days wallowing in self-centeredness?

It is our choice. God designed this world to give us the freedom to love Him or not, along with an environment set up to teach us how to love.

Here Jesus requests his followers choose to resume their loving relationship with the Supreme Being. This and only this will allow us to reflect that unconditional love the Supreme Being has for us. 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.'" (Matthew 22:37-39)