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 children 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 own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:43-48
Today’s passage is part of the “sermon on the mount” which contains some of the most profound and paradoxical teachings of Jesus. The style of teaching in this case is expository rather than experiential. The teaching here are hard and often run counter to our earthly intuitions,
In many ways this is, to use a pedagogical concept, scaffolding for the later experiential teaching that Jesus will be doing. These statements provide many of the reasons why Jesus acted the way He did when He encountered people or problems. Jesus knows that the disciples and other followers will be able draw from these deep waters of wisdom as they experience challenging, and often counter-intuitive, ways of living and loving people – both the righteous and the unrighteous.
This is where the water-related part of the passage comes in, when Jesus says “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” This could be taken several ways. It is a response to the age old philosophical question “why do bad things happen to good people?” and the other side of this coin “why do bad people sometimes seem to prosper”. Rain has come up many times in my float exploring water in the bible. I thought it would be good to go back and reflect on these passages to see if it sheds light on this passage.
A quick search of my blog revealed 198 references to “rain” so far. The first occurrence is in Genesis 2:5-6 when streams came up before there was rain on the earth and the hydrologic cycle had begun. When I floated past that passage I was mainly interested in thinking about the ways that this description could be viewed from a scientific perspective. As I look back another possible metaphorical meaning has occurred to me. In many references “rain” has represented the spiritual world of God intersecting the physical world here on earth. If one thinks of the Genesis passage as a spiritual metaphor then it could be describing the beginning of the “spiritual cycle“, the beginning of the “rain” being described in this passage by Jesus.
God’s rain can be scary, deadly, refreshing, and cleansing. In almost all of the rain references it seems there is a deeper meaning that God is trying to get across about the hidden spiritual world around us, that is just as vaporous and invisible as the moisture in the air. We feel its presence just like we can sense when it is a humid or dry day. What Jesus is trying to get across through this teaching, and others in the beatitudes, is that we can only be successful in our search for the Kingdom of God if we allow God to reveal and refresh us with His “rain” into our lives.
I have reflected before about how God is like water, an elemental God, and Jesus is His Godly condensate here on earth. So when Jesus says that “God sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” He is saying that He sends Himself for everyone, both the lovable and the unlovable. Jesus did an amazing job of modeling this kind of love for His disciples and for all those who are trying to follow His way to the Kingdom of God. His way is hard. It is hard to love someone who is not only unlovable, but may in fact actually return your love with hate (our enemies).
The only way to do this is to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How can we be perfected by God? I think the only way is to allow ourselves to be “stripped down to soul” so God can rebuild us in His image. We have to become “rain barrels” for God’s love and spirit.
Prayer: God help us to receive Your Holy Spirit and Son so that we can become better at receiving the hard teachings that shape our souls.