Yeshua expounded upon the principle of loving one’s enemies by saying, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
… But love your enemies, and do good … expecting nothing in return” Luke 6:32-35
With these words, Yeshua broadened the concept of loving one’s neighbor to people outside of one’s social circle. Even sinners and tax collectors love those who love them and greet those who greet them. The Master called His disciples to a higher standard.
Yeshua instructed His disciples to greet all men peaceably—even the hated Romans:
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Matthew 5:46-47
Likewise, Rabbi Shammai used to say, “Greet all men with a cheerful face.” Moreover, “it was related of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai that no man ever gave him greeting first, even a Gentile in the street.” Likewise, Rabbi Chisda made it a point to greet the heathens and encourage them in their work.
Yeshua exhorted his disciples to be equitable in all their dealings with people. He concluded the discussion on loving enemies and showing kindness to strangers with the words, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). How can He command us to be perfect like God is perfect? Is that not asking the impossible?
In this context, perfection does not imply inerrancy or infallibility, instead it should be understood in the sense of “impartiality.” Yeshua told His disciples, “Be impartial, just as your Father in heaven is impartial … for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Rabbi Yeshua urged His disciples to emulate God who does good for both the righteous and the wicked. He told His disciples to treat both friend and stranger, brother and enemy with the same good will and common dignity. In other words, we are to be equitable as God is equitable. We are to be impartial in our courtesy, integrity, and generosity. This interpretation of Matthew 5:48 accords with the parallel version in Luke: “You will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36).
The Holy One, blessed be He, says, “Be like me! As I repay evil with good, so you should also repay evil with good, as it says [in Micah 7:18], ‘Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act?’” Exodus Rabbah 26:2
This article originally appeared on First Fruits of Zion.