|by Angela Lambert|
February 18th, 2017; 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel Matthew 5:38-48
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. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. “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, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
In 1981, Pope St. John Paul II was shot by a Turkish assassin Ali Agca. The attempt occurred on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima and JPII credits Mary for “guiding the bullet” which just barely missed a major artery. Even while in the ambulance, JPII voiced his forgiveness of the assassin. Later after he had recovered, he visited Agca in prison and offered his forgiveness in person. Agca had not offered an apology and only inquired as to why he wasn’t dead. This encounter however had an impact and later when he was released from prison, Agca travelled to St. Peter’s to place roses on John Paul II’s tomb.
Forgiveness and love is the mark of Christ, and therefore the signifier of His followers. John tells us that “God is Love.” The term “perfect” means “full, or complete.” When Jesus refers to His Heavenly Father’s perfection therefore, He means that God’s love lacks nothing and is total. By contrast, “even tax collectors” love their friends, but their love is imperfect because it is incomplete. Total love includes those who love us and those who do not.
But how we can love someone who hates us or hurts us? Does Jesus mean we must be friends with people who wish us harm or take advantage of us? No. Love is defined as “willing another person’s good.” Thankfully, this does not require feelings of love, or even reciprocal friendship. It doesn’t even mean trusting the person. It simply means choosing not to act in revenge or anger, and instead doing that which promotes the good of the other. Thus, we can pray for our enemies, in which we petition God on their behalf for graces to be bestowed upon them. We can speak kindly, act respectfully, and do the right thing toward others, not because they necessarily deserve it, but because it’s the kind of person we want to be.
Authentic love sometimes means tough love. It can require choices that appear unloving but are in fact healthy boundaries. Loving an addict for instance or someone with mental illness will require tough love, but will be more effective toward their health than enabling them in their sickness. Disciplining children is tough love, but it helps the child grow in goodness.
Christ calls His followers to imitate His mercy. This demand goes above and beyond natural strength and even natural wisdom or common sense. It only makes sense considering the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection for our salvation, and it can only be accomplished with the aid of His divine grace.
Christ loved us while we were yet sinners. He willed our good and worked for our salvation even when we were mired in sin and rejected Him. As His disciples, we can work for the salvation of others, even when they too are mired in sin and working against us.
This can be tricky, but my mother offered me advice about these situations that I have found to be a guiding principle. When tempted to react vengefully when faced with difficult people and situations, she would say, “don’t let their behavior change who you are.” Her wisdom strengthened my resolve and shed light on how to decide what to do. No matter what others are doing or how low they sink, the truth is, if we just fire back we sink to their level too. Jesus wants us to rise above, with the help of His grace and the light of His example. Whether it transforms the other person or not, it will definitely transform us.
Loving our enemy is necessary to stop the cycle of violence, and our only hope for human unity. When we are the ones caught up in it, we want to get the last word in or throw the last punch. When we are the observer however, we just want it to stop. As a mom, I get tired of hearing my kids bicker. Both claim it’s the other’s fault and point the finger at who started it. Both go on and on and on, despite my attempts to break it up because they are obsessed with having the last word. I wonder if God views our bickering in the same way. Maybe the other person did start it, so what? Why can’t we just stop? No one can move on unless we do and everyone is miserable.
Loving our enemy is a supernatural virtue. To cultivate charity, we need to connect to God and His stream of grace in prayer and the sacraments. We must meditate on the Gospels to develop our sense of what Jesus would do. We need to make time for fellowship with Christians walking the walk and learn from their insights and examples. In this way, we can grow in love until it fills every gap in our heart and reaches the fullness of perfection like that of our Father in heaven.
- Who do you find easy to love and why?
- Who do you find difficult to love? Who could you identify as your enemy?
- In what way do they provoke you to strike back?
- How might you react with love instead? How could you “will their good”?
- Consider how we love our children even when they disobey, say hurtful things, or work against us. Do you ever feel anger toward your kids, but choose/will what’s good for them?
- Consider God’s perspective as our Father and us as His children. How does He view our bickering, feuds, back-biting, and competitiveness? What would He say to you about how you treat your brother or sister in Christ?
- We can pick our friends but we can’t pick our family. Consider how loving our natural siblings can cultivate the virtues needed to love our spiritual siblings.
- Read the story of St. Maria Goretti and reflect on her example of tough love, forgiveness, and the transformation it caused in her assailant.
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Pick one person who makes your life difficult.
- 1) Begin each day with a sincere prayer for them. (not a list of all their flaws that God should fix, but rather for God’s blessing upon them!)
- 2) Resolve each day this week to refrain from snide remarks to them or about them, gossip, or any kind of action that would anger or hurt them.
- 3) Do one kind thing for them.
~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017
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