7th Sunday after Epiphany – A LSB #392
Text – Matthew 5:45b
For He makes His sun rise on the evil & on the good, & sends rain on the just & on the unjust.
ON THE EVIL & THE GOOD
“Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days. Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers, blossoming even as we gaze. Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years. One season following another, laden with happiness & tears.” Those lyrics are from a song written in 1964 specifically for the musical Fiddler on the Roof.
They have a haunting yet powerful flow as they describe the universal human sensation of time. What the song lyrics leave out; however, is who it is that makes the sun to rise & to set. He’s vastly more powerful than any lyrics or music ever could be. Genesis 1:16 tells us: “…God made the two great lights – the greater light to rule the day & the lesser light to rule the night…”
The Gospel reading for this morning is the 4th & final lesson in a series of readings from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. As God’s Son explains to us the true meaning of the Torah, He now addresses the topic of love for our neighbor. As the news media of our day go out of their way to publicize & stir up the hatred in our culture these words of Jesus are very appropriate.
If we were to believe what is seen on television & read in the newspaper, we’d think our whole nation is about to go up in flames. What the propaganda artists almost never get around to publicizing is the love that is displayed every day, by people of our country, for their neighbor. It’s clearly shown in the thousands of Lutheran schools across our land & around the world.
If you spend time in them, hospitals, assisted living & nursing homes are other places where Jesus makes His presence known each day. There are hundreds of thousands of caregivers faithfully working their shifts & demonstrating love to real human beings who are dealing with real suffering. I specifically mention schools, hospitals, assisted living & nursing homes because the clients being served in them aren’t always there willingly. You know as well as I that makes it more difficult to love them. Yet, in Matthew 5, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He takes love into another whole realm:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor & hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil & on the good, & sends rain on the just & on the unjust.’” (Matthew 5:43-45 ESV)
How many of you enjoy seeing a beautiful sunrise? How many of you enjoy seeing this in action, “What goes around comes around?” Has it ever occurred to you that there is a contradiction in those two answers? We take pleasure in seeing someone get what’s coming to them, yet we relish the blessings we receive & take satisfaction in our efforts to gain them.
When a person we don’t like suffers misfortune we see that as payback for their nefarious deeds. When we make the effort to be in the right place at the right time to see a beautiful sunrise we see that as the result of our diligence & determination.
In those two manners of thinking we have completely missed the contradiction between them: “[God] makes His sun rise on the evil & on the good, & sends rain on the just & on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45b ESV) Who are we to assume that we are one & not the other? How is it that we take pleasure in another person’s misfortune while enjoying our own good fortune?
How well do you do at loving & forgiving your enemies? A poet once said, “It’s not difficult to forgive one’s enemies after they’ve all been hanged.” In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ command to love our enemies cuts through our phony spiritual façade. The idea of loving an enemy is intolerable & offensive to us as we’re born into this world. Our impulse is to hit back. Jesus can’t really mean it. To love our enemy & pray for him devastates our idea of good & evil. It shatters the illusion we enjoy when someone else gets what’s coming to them. It confuses our ability to enjoy the blessings for which we work so hard. Loving our enemy is beyond our capacity. To love & pray for them we need to be born again.
Even the enemy & persecutor must receive the loving deeds & prayers of Jesus’ disciples. Our purpose in loving & praying in this way is to give evidence that we are, in fact, sons & daughters of the heavenly Father. Maybe you’re familiar with these words:
“We will work with each other, we will work side by side. We will work with each other, we will work side by side. And we’ll guard each one’s dignity & save each one’s pride & they will know we are Christians by our love.” The song was based upon John 13:35 & in the NLT it’s worded this way:
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” In the verse immediately before it, Jesus gives us more of the context: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV) God’s love is such that He makes His sun rise on the evil & the good.
In Matthew 5:47 Jesus told us, “…if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Martin Luther commented on that with his characteristic brusqueness:
“Do you see now how pious you are if you are friendly & kind only to your friends? You are just about as pious as the thieves & the scoundrels, as the whores & the criminals, or as the devil himself.” (AE 21:127) Luther’s words are not very flattering. Some would say they are not even Christian. The portrait he paints of us certainly is not pretty.
Yet the words of Jesus, that Luther is commenting on, are certainly true, are they not?
“…if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” And those words are simply explaining the heart of the text where Jesus told us, “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.’”
That’s how people truly know we are Christians – not just that we love our friends & brothers – but that we love our enemies & pray for those who persecute us. As we are born into this world it is an utterly impossible teaching & command. Jesus does not give us this command as some kind of motivational tool, but as a wakeup call.
The Son of God is calling us to see who we truly are without Him. At the same time, He is also calling us to who we are with Him – Immanuel, God with us. As in the sermon on Matthew 5:15, from two weeks ago, Jesus drives us back again to our emptiness & the poverty of our soul, so that we recognize, not just our need to be saved, but our desperate need to be saved.
Apart from God With Us, it is endemic in us to hide the light, not just from our enemies but from everyone. If you struggle to accept that, remember your reluctance to pray out loud in a public restaurant. Not even Jesus is asking you to pray for your enemies then. He just asks you to remember Him & publically thank Him for the blessing of food & drink.
The nature of real love is made clear by the existence of an enemy. Love of our neighbor can be allied with our own welfare, but love of an enemy has no purpose for me. Enemies profit me nothing. Pastors who only preach prosperity gospel or those who preach the happiness gospel, having nothing to say about Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies & pray for them.”
The greatest example of that can be seen at the cross of Golgotha, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing...” (Luke 23:34 ESV) And the best news in that is that Jesus prays those very same words for you & for me. In Holy Communion we hear Jesus say, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” (LSB p. 162, 209, 217) Capping it off we hear Romans 5:10, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.”
Everyone says love is a wonderful idea, until they have someone & something to forgive. God’s hatred of our sins was spent on Jesus at Golgotha.
If Christ’s command to love your enemies is causing you worry, as usual, this reading from Matthew 5 is not so much about us as it is about Jesus & His radical love for sinners. Out of love & grace & mercy, our Lord causes His sun to shine & His rain to fall upon the evil & the good, upon the just & the unjust.
Out of His radical love & grace & mercy, Jesus shows, calls, & equips us to become what He has already declared us to be. In our lifetimes we come across all kinds of unhappy people; angry at the church, angry at us, angry at God. They can be mean. They may be malicious. They won’t deserve any kindness or consideration we show them. And sometimes they are us.
That’s why St. Paul was inspired to write these words: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” Today, your Lord & Savior is calling you again to live that life which He has given you, to find rest in His love & to serve Him joyfully because of it. Amen.
God loves you dearly, grants you salvation, God loves you dearly, loves even you. You were in slavery, sin, death & darkness; God’s love was working to make you free. He sent forth Jesus, your dear Redeemer, He sent forth Jesus to set you free. Therefore I’ll say again: God loves you dearly, God loves you dearly, loves even you. Amen.
LSB 392:1-3 with alterations
 Sheldon Harnick is the author of Sunrise, Sunset.
 Written in 1968 by then-Catholic priest Peter R. Scholtes.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet