Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Loving enemies

My Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit come upon you and remain with you forever. In last week’s gospel, Jesus continued his Sermon on the Mount with a series of statements that take the law and ratchet it up a step. He says repeatedly, “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you.” In last week’s gospel, Jesus gave four examples of how his disciples weren’t going to live by the bare minimum of the law but, instead, live moral lives that surpassed it. He continues today with the last two examples that he offers both on how we are to love. To summarize, he says first: don’t take revenge on those who harm you, instead remain unaffected by them and go the extra mile for someone in need. And, second, don’t just love those who will love you back. Instead, make a special effort to love those who won’t love you back. I find both of these injunctions incredibly difficult. When someone harms me either with words or actions, my first reaction is to fight back. I really have to calm myself down and ignore that first impulse. I imagine we all do. It’s not natural, for instance, when someone slaps your right cheek to not recoil or put up your hand and, instead, cock your head in the other direction and get ready to be slapped on the other cheek. It’s not easy to be sure to show the same kindness to someone who hates you that you would to someone who loves you.

Yet, there’s a side to these two passages that bug the heck out of me. For instance, I wouldn’t in a million years say to a wife whose husband abuses her or her children that she just needs to turn and offer him her other cheek. Nor would I say to a High School-aged guy whose classmates were bullying him that he should love them and let them do horrible things to him. In both those cases, my blood starts to boil at just the thought of the person feeling trapped and abused and I feel like I must intervene. Would Jesus condemn me for telling a wife whose husband is abusing her that she deserves better and should go somewhere safe? Would he take away my priesthood for telling bullied teenager that it’s okay to report those who are bullying him, that, in fact he’s being stronger by doing that than by keeping quiet?
Part of what Jesus is trying to get across in the gospel today is that, even though we are entitled to do so, we shouldn’t get wrapped up in seeking retribution. If someone slapped you in his day, you had the right to demand a certain amount of money as recompense for the grievance. And if someone was considered an enemy, it was expected that you would exclude them from celebrations and wouldn’t do anything nice to them. In both cases, Jesus is trying to get us to see how destructive it is to get wrapped up in that tit-for-tat litigiousness. Holding a grudge just gets in the way of being perfect like God is perfect. Ultimately, God could remember everything that we have ever done that deserves punishment but, through Christ, he has set us free from those punishments so that we can walk in the freedom of his Children. Don’t get wrapped up in punishing those who hurt you unless you yourself want to be punished by those you have hurt.

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