SEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, A
"LOVE YOUR ENEMIES AND PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU" (Matt.5:44)
How hate eats you up!
This looks quite like a costly task, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". Did Christ intend this statement for us as is written in the gospels? That's the kind of question that could be going on in the minds of most of us as we listened to or read such passages. Of course, he meant it. He experienced the greatest hate from his people. He forgave his detractors even when it hurt him most. He prayed for those who persecuted him, "Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing" (Lk.23:34). That is the tough love call.
For the past three weeks, we have been listening to Christ's teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Chapter 5). Matthew presents Christ as the great teacher challenging us with the most difficult goals of Christian living. Christ takes a hindsight at the Old Testament Law which was anchored on retributive Justice. The Mosaic Law says, "If further harm is done, however, you will award life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stroke for stroke" (Ex.21:23-24). Our people call it, "Do me, I do you". That means no injury goes without payback or appropriate retaliation. In the Mosaic law, retribution is no sin. That is the basis for the first reading of today which commands thus, "You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart... You will not exact vengeance on, or bear any sort of grudge against, the members of your race, but will love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev.19:17-18). Here, love of neighbor is encouraged especially because neighbor is described strictly as one with some blood relationship with the person. The neighbor deserves good treatment as duty because of who he is. Therefore, protecting such a person was an obligation.
If we keep this perspective in view, we will understand properly the encounter between Jesus and the Jewish lawyer who came to him with the question, "And who is my neighbor" (Lk.10:29). Their encounter began with the young man's curiosity about how to inherit eternal life. Referring to the Law, he cited the Old teaching, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (cf. Deut.6:5, Lk.10:26). Perhaps, this man had dilemma choosing between the Mosaic teaching and Jesus' injunction in relation to the meaning and interpretation of neighbor. But Jesus opened his eyes with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Of course, the example of the Samaritan who rendered unconditional help to the Jew completely brought about a new meaning of neighbor. The Samaritan took detailed, conscientious steps to express his care for the Jew, who ordinarily was an enemy and wouldn't deserve his help. So, when the Book of Leviticus tells us, "You will not exact vengeance on, or bear any sort of grudge against the members of your race", it makes love seem parochial and selfish. That's the Old Law.
The new law of love transforms the Old. Christ says to the disciples, "I give you a new commandment: love one another just as I have loved you" (Jn.13:34). Christ changes the language of love here from "love the members of your race or neighbor" to "love one another...". "One another" could therefore be anybody. It could be the stranger you meet just like the Good Samaritan met the fallen Jew. It could be the perceived enemy in your trap just as David met Saul but eventually spared his life (cf.1Sam.24:5-8). Christ knows the tough task which love bestows on his followers. Christ instructed the Jews to apply their love even to hated Romans who claimed the right to seize the goods of natives or compel them to pay taxes and serve the Roman empire. That's tough though, but that surely is the Christian way.
As Christians, there is a little bit of the "fool's blood" in our vein for the sake of God's kingdom. Saint Paul describes us as "...men condemned to death..." (1Cor.4:9). This echoes Christ's teaching today, "Be you perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt.5:48). We need to look unto Christ as our model of love. It does not matter whom we deal with as much as they are human beings. It doesn't matter their race, color, gender or social status. That's why comparing our religion with any other doesn't really balance our action, reaction or responsibility as Christians. Be it Judaism, Islam, Hinduism or any other, our principles and teachings are centered on Christ and must be different. What did Christ do? Like a lamb led to the slaughter, he kept quiet in the face of violence. Humility, forgiveness and love were the hallmark of his teaching. Saint Paul puts it this way, "When we are cursed, we answer with a blessing; when we are hounded, we endure passively; when we are insulted, we give a courteous answer. We are treated even now as the dregs of the world, the very lowest scum" (1Cor.4:12-13). Christians place higher value on love. By resisting to give hate back we demonstrate two things: 1. That God is capable of coming to our defense (cf. Rom.12:20). 2. That by grace, we have the strength to overcome evil with good (cf. Rom.12:21).
Christ's words to us today is, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". Undoubtedly, most of us feel hurt. Most of us have been wounded even by those we claim are our own. Most of us carry wounds in our hearts. Some of us have even resolved never to forgive their offenders again. Let it be clear to you today that there is no forgiveness in the grave. I tell myself that I will like to deal with all my troubles in this world in order to travel light when I die. And by the way, do you know that hate eats you up the same way as stress? Why should you die with earthly burden such as hatred in your heart? So I want to tell you in this Mass; deal with it now. Don't let it linger. Who is that enemy that you have? Who is that person that you hate to see? Who is that individual that upsets you regularly? Has she made you to change, to become what you are not? Has she made you to become less yourself? That's the danger; whatever makes you to hate makes you weak. Do not hate because hatred is the wrong weapon. Hatred destroys you the hater first. It makes you feel bad, negative, angry always. Love is stronger. Christ commands you today to pray against hateful attitude. You are not a product of hate; you are a product of Love. You are made in the image of Love. May the grace of God change that hate in your heart into love. Let us love because love conquers all things.