In today’s Gospel, Jesus removes all doubt. He makes it clear how he expects his followers to behave.
The 1st point that Jesus makes is that following the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” is the bare minimum. As disciples of the Lord, we are called to a greater ethical commitment than the Golden Rule. That’s the reason Jesus gives 3 examples, and then, after each example, he asks, “What credit is that to you?”
Then, Jesus gives us the shocking details of what it means to go beyond the Golden Rule: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you”. There is no doubt about it! This is Jesus’ hardest teaching of all.
Allen Hunt is an American spiritual writer and speaker. A former Methodist pastor, Hunt is now a Roman Catholic. He puts it this way: “Jesus says that we Christians are called to stand out for our remarkable capacity to love people who hate us, to forgive people who hurt us, to offer grace and mercy to a hurting and broken world. In the face of hatred, Christians love. Each of us is to look into the eyes of somebody who hurts us and to be able to say, I love you anyway. What you’ve done is wrong. But I choose not to retaliate, not to hate. I love you anyway”.
The point of these comments is to emphasize that Christians are not just called to be different; we are called to be better and to do better. The other point that Hunt is making is that, by implementing this teaching in our lives, we are not letting others trample on our basic rights nor are we behaving in a wimpish manner. Rather, the opposite is true; we are showing tremendous inner strength and spiritual maturity.
“Love of enemies” does not mean feeling affection or a liking for those who want to harm us. “Love”, in this context, means genuinely wanting the greater good and well-being of the other without thinking how it will benefit us. It means that we are honoring the inherent dignity, value and worth of every person as a child of God regardless of their behavior toward us.
Yes, it’s true that this teaching is very difficult and challenging. Regardless of how we struggle with this teaching, we can not ignore it. Jesus is telling us that we must take the time and make the effort to incorporate love of enemies into our lifestyle. I would like to suggest a small step that we all can take to help us to grow in love of our enemies.
Ash Wednesday is on March 2 – that means that Lent begins in one and a half weeks. As we all know, one of the 3 disciplines of Lent is prayer. We are all called to improve our relationship with God and each other through prayer.
There is a proverb that says: “Let God handle your enemies. You just keep praying for them”. What I am proposing is that part of this year’s Lenten practice involve at least praying for our enemies.
As I have told you many times, my diaconal ministry assigned to me by the Bishop is not serving at Christ the King. My official diaconal ministry is serving with L’Arche Sudbury. This past January, Roma, who was the founding Core Member of L’Arche Sudbury passed away. I would like to share a story about Roma that shows how, as a bare minimum, we ought to pray for our enemies.
20 years ago, this past September, 2 hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. Shortly after that incident, during a prayer time, Roma indicated that she wanted to pray for the terrorists that had hijacked the planes. (This prayer had a profound impact on me. I prayed for many people on 9-11, but I never even thought of praying for the hijackers. Yet, here was someone with an intellectual disability who was more spiritually mature than I was.)
This example shows that one of the hallmarks of spiritual maturity is an expansive prayer life that excludes no one. This example shows that prayer means taking our eyes off ourselves and lifting up to God the needs of others, including those of people we don’t like, those of people who have hurt us or those of people whom we view as enemies.
Each of us ought to ask these questions: How do I widen the circle when I pray? Do I pray for people who I find hard to love, people who have offended me or rejected me, people whom I struggle to forgive? Perhaps, this Lent, at the very least, we can be more intentional about praying for enemies.
Although love of enemies is a radical teaching, Jesus gets even more radical when he gives the reason for this teaching. We are to love our enemies because we are called to be like God: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”. We are to imitate God. Our calling is to think, speak and act like God. How can we know how God thinks, speaks and acts?
Look at Jesus. Jesus is God made flesh. Jesus makes the invisible God visible, concrete and human. Through Jesus’ interaction with others, such as the woman caught in the very act of committing adultery, and, ultimately, through his self-sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus reveals that God is perfect mercy.
As I have shared with you before, mercy is found of wherever these 3 characteristics exist at the same time: love, forgiveness and compassion. There are no mistakes in God’s mercy. There are no improvements that God can make in showing us his mercy. God’s love, forgiveness and compassion are characterized by the 4 “uns”: unconditional, unlimited, unchanging and unending.
The key message is what we have received, we must, in turn, give to others. Since we have received mercy, we are to be agents of mercy.
During the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism, the newly baptized is clothed with a white garment. At this point the celebrant say: “You have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. May this white garment be a sign to you of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring it unstained into eternal life”.
Clothing ourselves in Christ means wearing the garment of mercy. Putting on Christ means that our compassion, forgiveness and love know no bounds – they even include our enemies. Baptism transforms us into living Christs. This is what it means to live a life full of Christian dignity!
Loving our enemies in order to be like God is a difficult, demanding and radical teaching. But it’s a necessity to follow it. It’s not a suggestion or a recommendation. It’s a command that comes from the Lord himself!
As our Eucharist continues, let us ask God for the courage, strength and grace to incorporate this Gospel value of love of enemies in order to be like God into the circumstances of our lives.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
February 19 – 20, 2022