Sunday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
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Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well…You have heard that it was said, ’You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good…”
Christ’s words must have shocked his audience; an audience very much accustomed to abuse, injustice and neglect by the rich, the powerful and the intelligentsia. Hatred was their only escape from their miserable condition, and now the Lord was closing this door to them: You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. The crowd was confused.
Of course this flies smack in the face of the wise of this world. As St. Paul tells the small community of believers in Corinth: “Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God” (1Cor 3:16-23). Now the crowd was really confused! I’m suppose to become a fool?
I know of no human community that has implemented Christ’s teachings in a more successful manner than the Christian community. In days gone by, the Church sent hundreds of fearless unarmed missionaries to barbarian lands (today known as Norway, Denmark, Ireland, England, Germany, etc..) only to have them return to Rome in small packages, one body part at a time. How did the Church respond? By sending more and more missionaries until finally the rulers of these lands succumbed to the wisdom, beauty, innocence and love of Jesus Christ.
Of course there were times when our missionaries failed to turn the other cheek; that is, when they lived just like those around them. But I know of no religious group that conquered a warrior people by willingly laying down their lives for them. O, the power of love! “Love does not conquer the same way power conquers, but wins precisely because it does not resort to power.” – Fr. Hans Urs Von Balthasar.
“Love your enemies”, the Lord said with a straight face, “and pray for those who persecute you.” Easier said than done, right?
But here lies the true beauty and essence of our God, of Christ and of the Christian faith. Love is all about the giving of oneself to another, even an undeserving other. The Lord said, “Be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?”
As His message got more confusing to our sensibilities, the Lord’s audience kept growing larger and larger. Yes, humanly speaking, we would prefer not to be given such unimaginable, even unreasonable, requests; and yet, we all love a good challenge. The Lord’s message has caught our imagination and ear. “Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
It is precisely this unique challenge, what we so easily call ‘Christian love,’ that has conquered nearly a third of the world’s hearts and imagination. And only for a lack of trying has it not conquered the entire world.
Love your enemies. The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: …You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart” (Lev. 19:1,17). Interesting.
Who are your enemies?
I think there are three types of enemies: imaginary, convenient and real.
Imaginary enemies: Teens often see their parents as enemies. This is pure nonsense. Parents are people who love their children immensely. Unfortunately, selfishness can skew our perception of people, especially the people who love us the most. So kids tend to whine and cry for the silliest of reasons. For example.
Mom/Dad: “Do your homework?” Teen: “Why are you bothering me so much! Why do you hate me! Why are you sending me to this private Catholic School that costs $15,000 a year and takes away my evenings for Xbox? Why are you treating me so badly!”
Mom/Dad: “Eat your vegetables.” Child: “Why are you torturing me!!!”
Convenient enemies. Convenient enemies are individuals who are soft or easy targets, like little brothers and sisters. My friends can do no wrong, but my little brother or sister can do nothing right! If a friend breaks my toy then it is okay. If my little brother or sister breaks it then it is the end of the world, and I let them know it!
St. John wrote in his first letter: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates his brother is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1Jn 4:20).
Real enemies. Most of our enemies are not real enemies, but to think we have none would make us a little naïve. Real enemies are individuals who hold grudges against us, wish to do us harm or look for opportunities to take revenge upon us. As you can tell, most enemies believe they are victims and these are the people the Lord speaks of when he speaks of enemies.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This is easy to say. It’s another thing to do it. The Lord did both.
Christ is inviting His followers to follow Him and to pick up their cross (their enemy) and carry it (them). This is confusing. It’s shocking! But what makes it most shocking is how well it works, and how it changes the world…to good. (0)