7TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR “C” – “BE PERFECT!”
Love the enemy? Giving up more than your adversary demands, or doubling troublesome obligations? Turn the other cheek? Never, no way, no how. More easily said than done!
To be more practical I just ask you to do one thing for me (you may close your eyes if that helps). Think of the greatest source of anger and frustration that happened at some point in your life, and you might be paying the consequences to this day. Think of the persons that you see as the cause. Now, stop and say a prayer for them. Really? Yes, really! Is it that easy? You might well feel resistance to doing so.
I may not know each one’s stories but I’m sure most of those persons that came to your mind do not even qualify to be enemies in the strict sense! An enemy is simply someone who is antagonistic to another and seeks to injure, overthrow or confound the other. Enemy is not someone you had a fight or disagreement at home, or someone you broke with, or a competitor at work or business. It’s someone who hunts to destroy you or your loved ones or your valuable property. The story of King Saul and David is a perfect example.
If this is what an enemy is, then Jesus could probably be asking us of the most difficult thing in today’s Gospel. And yet, Jesus tell us that this is the way to be perfect! This demand to be perfect is in line with what we read in Leviticus 19:1-2: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” So, if that’s what it takes in order to be perfect or holy then I must say the commandment of ‘love of enemies’ is the litmus test for Christianity!
What may be surprising in today’s Gospel is the fact that Jesus seems to be is in favor of the “enemy”- the oppressor, and less concerned with the victim. It’s true in Ezekiel 18:23 we see God’s position on this when He says: Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? But why should Jesus pile up more load on the victim?
What if we had a special bulletin board in our church where people could display every nasty things they want to say to the people they hate? Would that be in any way appropriate? Neither is it appropriate stamping them in our heart and soul and that is exactly what Jesus means in today’s Gospel.
Resentment is such a powerful force. It is part of our natural defensive instinct. It has a preventive side as well, when we are on our guard not to be hurt or taken advantage of. Resentment and hate kept in one’s heart do a lot of harm to that person and nothing to the hated person. And it is a great drive to sin. And remember: “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” So Jesus is basically concerned with the offended and He wants to bring both psychological and spiritual healing to the offended because He knows how powerful and destructive resentment is to the body, mind and soul.
There is yet another reason why we should let go of any grudges in our hurts as a conducive environment for effective prayer. We cannot receive something with clenched fists. We have to open up our hearts and let go of something so we can receive another.
To love our enemies does not mean that we would have the same affection for them that we would have for someone who is near and dear to us. But it does mean that we will not allow ourselves to wish anything for our enemies but their highest good. It means that we will go out of our way to be good and kind to them. I know how I have failed to love in this way so many times in my life. But it is the teaching of Jesus and it is not impossible. He prayed for his enemies on the cross; St. Stephen did the same; David refused to retaliate when he had all the chance to do so to his enemy king Saul; and many, many other saints.
So, yes, it may be difficult but is very possible through prayer and forgiveness. St. Paul offers a great clue to overcoming this resistance.
- We are a temple, the Holy Spirit’s dwelling. (1 Cor. 6:19)
- Do not let resentment lead you into sin; the sunset must not find you still angry. Do not give the Devil his opportunity. (Ephesian 4:26 – 27)
- Love conquers all. (1 Cor. 13)