This Sunday’s Gospel speaks about the commandment of love. Jesus gives us the key, to be as perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. In other words, I ought to love as he loves. This trickles down to loving even my enemy.
Love "them" and love your enemy
Bible readings Leviticus 19: 1–2, 17–18 Psalm 103: 1–4, 8, 10, 12–13 1 Corinthians 3: 16–23 Matthew 5: 38–48
But I have no…
As Christians, called to love, easily we may live in the illusion of seeing ourselves as loving people. Consequently, not only may we be a little uncomfortable to admit it but we may also go as far as to deny we actually have enemies. Well, in any case, there are persons who have offended us and because of that we don’t want to have anything to do with them. We resent them and their presence makes us feel ill-at-ease. The Gospel draws our attention to such people. What do we do with them?
It was said in the past love your neighbour
By teaching about love Jesus is not treading an unbeaten track. In fact, Moses, as the First Reading shows, taught about it. At God’s instruction, Moses taught the people to be holy because the Lord their God was holy. Precisely, that meant no hating of their kin, correct the erring neighbour, no vengeance or holding a grudge against one’s own people and loving a neighbour as oneself.
Nevertheless, the talk about love here is quite different from what Jesus teaches in the Gospel. The characteristic of love in the OT is that it focuses on your brother, your kin, your people and neighbour. What does it mean?
For Jews it meant one had the obligation to love and act kindly towards a fellow Jew. Once that’s fulfilled, you can easily treat all the rest like a dog. Don’t think of a dog in terms of that beautiful pet that you love so much but rather in the sense of the contempt the oriental people of that time had for dogs as impure animal. It’s here Jesus introduces a perspective quite revolutionary.
Now I tell you, love your enemy…
Jesus turns the table upside-down regarding the commandment of love. It’s no longer about loving just your kin or those who do you good. Instead, you ought to love every person even those who offend you.
When your wounds are still fresh from the offence you may have suffered, and your heart heavy with sentiments of vengeance; don’t you feel like telling Jesus, hey wait a minute! You tell me to love that person; don’t you think you are asking too much, if not total impossibility?
No doubt what Jesus commands goes against our natural tendency. If you hit me, I want to hit you back even harder. Yet, he says, be as perfect as your Father in heaven.
As perfect as the Father in Heaven
How on earth can I be as perfect as God is? Well, it’s all about loving as he loves. Ah! But how does he love?
“…he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” His love knows no barrier. God does not revenge neither does he seek to destroy those who offend him. Jesus asks us to love the same way. That’s why he says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Loving my enemy, what is that supposed to mean? Does it mean that when I see the person I resent I hurry to embrace him with a big smile? Is it about having good sentiments for the person who wronged me? If you can, so much the better but it’s not the essential of what Jesus calls us to do.
To love the enemy is to refuse to enter the cycle of violence. I know you wronged me but I don’t hit you back. I don’t hate you and I don’t intentionally make you suffer for offending me. However, that has nothing to do with having friendly feeling.
Easier said than done
We may be willing to put in practice the command of Jesus but sometimes we are just overwhelmed by ill sentiment so much that even our prayer breathes vengeance. Haven’t you ever prayed against a person like the psalm below?
May his days be few; may another seize his position. May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow. May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit. May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil. May there be no one to do him a kindness, nor anyone to pity his orphaned children... But You, O God, the Lord, deal kindly with me for your name’s sake….” (Ps 109).
How to find strength to love my enemy
Jesus is not asking us to be super men capable of going against natural inclinations. Rather, he’s calling us to be humble and simply acknowledge God’s goodness to us. When God makes the rain fall on the bad; it’s not about people out there –it’s me. I offend God and others but he does not seek to destroy me. He acts kindly with me. That’s also what the Psalm calls me to bear in mind:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits— who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases… The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger for ever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Ps 103)
In this new commandment of love Jesus reveals the image of his Father, loving and forgiving. He asks us to be likewise in our relationships with others.
Jesus turned another cheek
When someone slaps you give him another cheek also. Actually, Jesus didn’t do so when he was slapped. Apparently, the message is not in the literal meaning. But turning another cheek would mean showing that violent person another side of being. Show him we have another side that is humane. And Jesus showed it.
When he is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane Peter is quick to lay his hand on his sword and cut the ear of the servant of a chief priest. Does Jesus congratulate him? He commands him: Peter put your sword back into the stealth.
Yes, that’s what it means to turn another cheek; it’s to show another image, humane, even in moments when sentiments of retaliation and violence want to dominate. That’s what it means to be holy as our heavenly Father is holy.
Lord, you know at times I’m inhabited by sentiments of revenge and I want to wield my sword like Peter. Speak gently to my anger and resentment so that I can put the sword of my vengeance back in its stealth.
Mission for this week: What about praying for that person with whom I have some difficulty? I call God’s blessing upon him.
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