This verse ties in exactly with where we left off last time - with the idea that we are to be "weird" (that is, we are supposed to defy social expectations with our love and kindness toward others) to point people to why we are weird - God.
The three examples we looked at last time had to do with specific events targeting you specifically (insults, suing in court, and legal obligations), but this one - helping others is much more broad in scope. It requires us to help others anytime we see the need. Rather than instructing us how to respond to specific scenarios, Jesus is here commanding us to extend this "weird" love to everyone, all the time. This is a radical worldview shift. He dives yet deeper...
43 You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.'
So what? Well, this serves as a warning to us - we need to be extremely careful not to add on to Scripture with something that seems implied. For example, a lot of people in America quote that "God helps those who help themselves" fully believing that it is in the Bible. But it isn't! In some cases, it is a Scriptural approach, but certainly not in every circumstance. Yet, because it has been treated as bearing the same weight as Scripture, people are continually stumbled by it.
Jesus is not here reversing something for the New Covenant; rather, he is pointing out that because people added to Scripture, they've been living under a wrong worldview the entire time.
44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
A beautiful example of someone who actually lived out this principle is Corrie Ten Boom, a woman who hid Jews during the Holocaust, as caught and sent to a concentration camp, so many of her family and friends slaughtered, but still found the courage to forgive even the specific Nazis who persecuted her and her family. You can find out much about her online, and I also highly recommend her book The Hiding Place.
What does it mean, "...so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven"? Is this a stipulation for salvation? No - we've talked about this a bit before. Our actions do not affect our salvation (that would be a salvation through works), but rather, having a genuine heart wanting Christ's forgiveness so we can become like Him does. Becoming like Christ is the ultimate goal of Christianity. We see this again in verses 48: "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
The point is that God cares for even His enemies (that is, those who despise and reject them) and provides them with sunshine and precious rain, so if we want to be like God, we must treat them with the same love.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Remember, the Jews of Jesus's day despised Gentiles (non-Jews) and especially tax collectors (Jews who had betrayed their heritage by working for the Jews' Roman oppressors and harassing their own people). So Jesus's point is: you are no better than the very people you despise. What truly gives you cause to hate them?
For an exercise, think of a group that you can't stand (maybe a certain political activist group you strongly disagree with). Now think of all sorts of genuinely good things these individuals do - care for their families, for instance. If we think we are genuinely better, then why don't we act like it? Here's a bit of a paradox - we need to be better, but not for the sake of being better...rather, simply to be like God and draw them to his love.
If even (who we consider to be) the worst people on the planet demonstrate basic love to those close to them, why do we feel superior for doing the exact same thing? We as Christians (literally, "little Christs") are called to live better, more difficult lives - including loving everyone, and demonstrating that love through our actions.
48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
are to be perfect
as your heavenly Father
What ways can you think of that we can demonstrate God's love to everyone around us? Can you think of more examples like Corrie Ten Boom of people who demonstrated this love even to people who despised them?