The Sermon on the Mount
The Commandment for Peace
Thursday, July 22, 2021
Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene
My good friend, the life-long peacemaker John Dear, has recently founded The Beatitudes Center for the Nonviolent Jesus. Today he expounds on Jesus’ surprising commandment to “love your enemies,” calling it “the climax of the Sermon on the Mount.” John writes:
We have this revolutionary commandment: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your countrymen and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons and daughters of your heavenly God. . . .” (Matthew 5:43–45).
These are the most radical, political, and revolutionary words ever uttered. They fulfill the vision of nonviolence, of work for justice and disarmament, of universal compassion and unconditional forgiveness, and of trust in the God of peace. Few discuss this commandment, but I believe it sums up Christianity. But we’ve done our best to avoid and disobey it.
Why? Because the command to love our enemies goes against everything every nation in the world commands. . . . We ignore this commandment because we do not want to get in trouble for opposing our nation. We are afraid of the consequences. If we love our enemies, perhaps they will think we are naïve and vulnerable and attack us, and if we do not prepare a counterattack, then we fear we will surely be killed. So we go on preparing to kill our enemies. We disobey Jesus, don’t believe God will protect us, obey our nation/state, and continue the ever-descending global spiral into war. [Richard here: John is never one to mince words. Like St. Paul, he places us on the knife’s edge of a dilemma and encourages us to wrestle with it until we know what is ours to do.]
In this one climactic sentence, Jesus reverses the entire nation/state system. He invites us not to hate, punish, or kill anyone, especially those targeted by our nation/state. . . . It is not enough for us not to kill; we have to stop our country from killing others. He wants us, then, to reach beyond our borders to embrace everyone as a sister and brother, to make sure they have the fullness of life and love, to live in peace with everyone. [Jesus] calls us to universal, nonviolent love. . . . [Richard again: This is much of Pope Francis’ message in his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti.]
Jesus commands us to love our enemies not just because it’s right; not just because it’s moral; and not just because it’s the only practical solution; but because God loves God’s enemies. That’s the very nature of God, he explains. Jesus wants us to be “sons and daughters of your God in heaven, for God makes God’s sun rise on the bad and on the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and on the unjust” [Matthew 5:45]. God practices universal, nonviolent love, and as sons and daughters of this God, we—everyone—must do the same.
John Dear, The Beatitudes of Peace: Meditations on the Beatitudes, Peacemaking and the Spiritual Life (Twenty-Third Publications: 2016), 129–130, 131.
Story from Our Community:
Thank you for these meditations. I came across the agricultural term “re-wilding”—to give back areas of low-grade land to nature to rest, restore, and regain. I love that term! I wonder if we, as a community, are being asked by God to “re-wild”—to go back to our origins of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus. —Helen R.