Matthew 5:44 “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.’”
The recent deaths of George Floyd (2 weeks ago), Ahmaud Arbery (May) and Breonna Taylor (March) have ignited the cry across America for social change to address what has been labeled as widespread police racism. Peaceful protests continue across our nation advocating the need for change, with the City of Minneapolis going as far as advocating the defunding of its police department. But the question is: to effect real change, how do you unite people who normally would never unite?
We could all offer our own opinions on what ‘change’ should look like, but if we are honest our opinions, offered in isolation, are just opinions. The phrase “actions speak louder than words” is needed, because the actions we take and the things we say originate out of our heart – our character – who we truly are. We need to look into our character as individuals to decide whether we are willing to change – to repent.
Have we seen any actions that give us hope in the heart condition of people? After George Floyd’s death, protests against police racist brutality broke out across the country. In Louisville, KY, a video was taken that has not made its way to the national spotlight. In this video, a white Louisville policeman is separated from his fellow officers in the chaos, and is at the mercy of violent and destructive protestors. A group of black men form a human shield around the officer, protecting him, by putting themselves in harm’s way.
This act of care and concern towards an individual that others viewed as an ‘enemy’ is the best in human character. It is actually divisive, because what most people really want (again, if we are honest with ourselves) is justice or revenge, not to show your love/ blessing/ good deeds towards those who have been labeled as persecutors against you. Actions like this should first humble, and then unite, all of us.
And this brings us to our verse for this week. This verse is part of what is known as “The Sermon on the Mount”, spoken by Jesus Christ beginning in Matthew 5:1 and continuing through Matthew 7:27. This speech ranks as the most impactful positive message ever given by an individual in world history. At the end of His sermon, Matthew tells us that “the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29). Such is the power that Jesus Christ has on people, and continues to have, to this day. To effect lasting change, we need to listen again to Him.
One of the most interesting things about the Sermon on the Mount is that it is recorded in its entirety for us by someone who was one of the most hated people in Jewish culture – a former tax collector. Only prostitution rivaled tax collecting as the most despised profession in Israel. Tax collectors were considered loyalists to Rome, so they were excommunicated from Jewish society. How did they make a living?
To make your living as a tax collector meant you bought a “tax franchise” from Rome, which allowed you to collect taxes from your own people for Rome’s benefit. Rome allowed tax collectors to cheat and steal from the people as long as they got their tax. Tax collectors preyed especially on the poor, stopping them at any time and demanding whatever taxes they wanted, threatening to throw them in prison if they didn’t pay.
Why would Jesus call a tax collector to share God’s love to the Jewish people? Matthew tells us how it happened: “Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And he arose and followed Him” (Matthew 9:9). That was it. No conditions from Jesus, no public confession by Matthew to tell everyone he was sorry he had been a tax collector. Just “Follow Me”.
And what happened next? Matthew throws a great feast with Jesus as the guest of honor, and fills his house with all his friends who are (you guessed it) more tax collectors (read Luke 5:29). Why did Matthew only invite society’s lowlifes? They were the only people he knew (no one else would associate with him). His first impulse after deciding to follow Jesus was to bring his closest friends to meet Him.
Matthew knew, when he walked away from his lucrative job as a tax collector, there was no turning back. He knew the minute he walked away, the Romans would replace him (there was no shortage of money-grubbing riffraff who would gladly take his job) and he would be an outcast. Why did someone who would never unite with others suddenly unite in a call to action, that would one day cost him his own life? He had his heart transformed by Jesus Christ, the Savior of Mankind. Only Christ can do what we need today.
The Evidence of Faith’s Substance”, Article #402