Readings are: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 | Psalm 103 | 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 | Matthew 5:38-48
[__01__] In the Gospel this Sunday, our Lord Jesus speaks about “enemies” and “love of enemies”.
One scholar/commentator observes that that, in some languages, the same word would be used to refer to –
Of course, depending on the context, the word would have different meanings. But, it would be the same word.
In the context of St. Matthew’s Gospel, the “enemy” is the person by whom we feel – or are - persecuted.
Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)
We have experiences of sorrow and persecution in our lives … these can teach us about both the possibilities and the promises of love.
[__02__] For example …
[__02.01__] TRUTHFULNESS – telling someone the truth about his or her actions, that his or her actions may cause harm.
This may lead to a backlash, a persecution for the sake of righteousness.
[__02.02__] GENEROSITY – giving time, resources, money to another person. Sometimes, others will take advantage of our kindness. They might, so to say, “press our buttons”.
Being generous, we could be persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
[__02.03__] We could also be – or feel – persecuted if we were to take a Christian-Catholic stand for or against certain issues.
Today, we might fear persecution, speaking up for the historic traditions marriage between a man and a woman.
We might fear persecution, speaking up about certain medical advances, scientific procedures in stem-cell research, the use of human embryos in the laboratories of government or private enterprise.
These and other stances may reduce our approval rating, our popularity. Persecution.
[__04__] By whom are we being persecuted? Is our persecutor in hiding somewhere, on a CIA watch list?
Is the person we regard as “persecutor” or adversary only identifiable by NSA phone tapping or by a Pentagon/Department of Defense drone?
If this were the case, we should definitely turn off all electronic devices and bow our heads … not just in church for Mass but everywhere.
In fact, our “persecutor” is not necessarily a stranger or a foreigner or in another hemisphere or time zone.
Persecution is often a local - not an international – incident.
[__05__] At times, we may feel persecuted even in our own circle.
The Good News of the Gospel is challenging.
For what is the natural and logical reaction to persecution or affliction?
Initially, the reaction is ___ bitterness ____ distaste __ anger.
Feeling persecuted, we may also feel exploited, cheated. We may want to end a relationship or relocate far, far away.
Yet, I am called – you are called – in this gospel to “love your enemy” … to love the one by whom we are persecuted.
The biblical message – in both the Books of Matthew and Leviticus – are challenging.
- To love those from whom we receive no recompense, no return.
- In Leviticus, we read, “cherish no grudge, take no revenge.” (Leviticus 19:18)
Avoiding grudges, avoiding revenge is not simply a matter of avoiding certain people. Rather, this is a call to imitate God – as Father, Son, Holy Spirit
We imitate our heavenly Father who makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)
Of course, our affections and emotions are involved in love. These emotions or affections may inhibit – or prevent – me in certain behaviors. For example, I may not
- Send greeting cards
- Talk/text/email just to say I Love you.
But, while emotion is important, does it fully inhibit my freedom …my freedom to love in other ways?
[__06__] Freedom and love go together. No one can make me love…or make me not love.
Nevertheless, sometimes we – like the Pentagon or the President -- will define our freedom only by what an “enemy” or adversary or persecutor is doing or not doing.
But, the Gospel challenge again for our local relationships.
We would be mistaken if were to let our freedom be undermined – taken away – by those who persecute us.
For example, St. Francis de Sales writes that…
- A person may say many prayers … but remain angry, proud, slanderous toward family or associates.
- A person may give generously but does not open his heart to forgive his enemies.
- A person may [EVEN] forgive enemies or forgive debts…but does so only because he or she feels forced / compelled.
The beauty of the Good News is both love and freedom.
God – as Father, Son, Holy Spirit – loves us even we sin, when we oppose him and that he patiently awaits our return.
In loving those who do not return our affection or charity – even an enemy – we go and do likewise.