7th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Feb 27, 2019
Are you kidding me Jesus! Are you telling me that I have to be kind to those who are rude to me? I have to turn the other cheek and accept it when people do intentionally hurtful things to me? Are you saying I have to overlook the evil of the person who has swindled me? When that worthless brother-in-law of mine comes asking to borrow money from me again. I have to lend it to him even though I know I’ll never get it back? Am I supposed to give to the needy beggar even when it will leave me scrimping by for the rest of this month? Is that what you really expect of me Jesus? Do you realize how difficult that is for the normal person? You aren’t for real are you Jesus?
Even now Jesus’ instruction in today’s gospel seems difficult to digest. We tend to believe we live in a dog eat dog world. We are led to understand that we have to protect ourselves. When we are hurt, we believe we have to devise a scheme to get even. We lay awake at night developing a plan to not only get back at our enemy but hopefully do them one better. Jesus’ instructions to counter evil with goodness are hard to accept. They run counter to our sense of justice, equality and equity. Loving those who willfully hurt us! Repaying good for evil and not seeking retaliation against our enemy seems like craziness compared to what we believe are the circumstances of the real world. It feels nearly impossible for us not to want to strike back at those who cause us suffering.
In Jesus’ day the so-called Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” wasn’t exclusively a Christian instruction. It wasn’t only a Jewish proverb. It was an axiom suggested by the pagan philosophers too. Treating others in the same manner as you would want to be treated was a pretty universal rule of life for all cultures of the time.
What made Jesus’ instruction in today’s gospel groundbreaking was when he suggested to his disciples that they go beyond that standard of treatment. Jesus astonished his listeners when he suggests that they set as their standard for behavior the goal to imitate God. Jesus was amazing when he told the crowd that the new standard of behavior was to strive to be as loving, forgiving, and merciful to others as God is to us. He told them they needed to go for the gold. To set their objective to be as Godlike as possible in the way they dealt with their enemies and those who hurt them.
How to handle relationships with people who do us harm has long been a challenge for humans. When Moses delivered the Law to the Chosen People, he set a limit on retribution. His famous eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth decree was meant to put a limit of proportionality on any revenge for an insult or injury. It was meant to make proportional the desire to seek repayment for a grievance.
But even then, people recognized that was difficult to accomplish. They realized that in anger and frustration it is often difficult to limit ourselves to proportionality. All too often human behavior doesn’t stop at a mere quid pro quo. Retaliation is difficult to hold within boundaries.
In the ancient world it became the custom to use shame to retaliate against an enemy. The story of David’s encounter with King Saul and his army in today’s first reading is a good example of that. The 1st Book of Samuel tells us that Saul and his large army were trying to hunt down David whom Saul feared was trying to overthrow him.
Today’s reading tells us that David is given a chance to destroy his enemy. Abishai, David’s companion claims that it is God’s will that David is given the opportunity to kill Saul. The scriptures themselves say that the deep sleep Saul and his army is experiencing is of God’s making to give David a chance to destroy his enemy.
David makes probably a very smart political and strategic decision. He resists the chance to gain vengeance and kill the one who is trying to hunt him down. Even though he has the ability to kill Saul with his own spear. The very spear that is the symbol of the king’s authority. David doesn’t give into the chance. Recognizing that to kill Saul while his own force is disproportionately small is tantamount to suicide. If the army were to awakens to find the king assassinated. David will become even more of an outlaw. So, he steals the spear and Saul’s water jug. This causes Saul, his chief general Abner and all the army shame. This shame undercuts the king’s authority and helps David to appear to be the better and more powerful person.
Jesus today is suggesting his followers take similar actions when we are being unjustly persecuted by our enemies. Jesus teaches us that when we feel put upon by our foe, we should not try to punish them but to, “kill them with kindness.” Shame them by our goodness to them. If we return good for evil when we have the opportunity to punish or humiliate our adversaries. We are actually helping the world see we are the better person. As Paul told the Roman’s when they were facing persecution. Doing good to our enemies is actually like heaping hot coals on their head. Making friends of our enemies is the best way to deal with those who do us harm.
Jesus today is telling those who would be His disciples that Christians are called to be better than the average run of the mill person. Christians are to stick out and not blend into the world around them. Our goodness, compassion and mercy are to make us examples for others to want to imitate. We are called to imitate God to the best of our ability. Like God we are to indulge the sinner. Show mercy to those who don’t really deserve it. Forgive those who hurt us even before they ask of it.
This call to love our enemies is a very difficult challenge. It is so hard because love of our enemies isn’t natural. It doesn’t come from our heart of hearts but is something we must will to do. It takes strength and conviction to will to love our enemies. Christian ethics calls us to be more than just a good person. It requires that we be exceptional people. It isn’t good enough just to go through life not hurting anybody. We need to show we are ready to love the unlovable. If we are to live up to the label of a follower of Jesus, we need to be saints.
Jesus’ instruction to love and do good towards our enemy isn’t hard to understand. In today’s Gospel Jesus is very clear and gives us specific circumstances of how we are called to love our enemies. He is explicit in explaining the kinds of behavior we need to follow as his disciples. Jesus tells us how we need to behave as people trying to live out our lives as Christians.
What is hard is putting it into practice. Paul tells the Corinthians in today’s reading from his letter to that community we can get the strength to follow Jesus by trying to imitate him. Paul calls Jesus the New Adam whom we should imitate.
We have already, each one of us, been given the strength to imitate Jesus. Through our baptism we have been given the grace to imitate Jesus. Our baptism has given us a new dignity that gives us strength above and beyond the average person to really have the ability to love our enemies and turn them into our friends. We have already been given the power of Christ alive in our hearts and souls to follow Jesus even to the cross. God promises that if we put that love into practice we will share in the same resurrection as Jesus Christ.
In a few minutes we will come to share in the Eucharist. God will give us the real presence of Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity to strengthen us to put into practice love of our enemies. He will give us the power to turn them into our friends. If we are open to God’s gift of grace we will be able to live up to the call to be the faithful disciples of our Savior Jesus Christ who follow his example of love.