7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A); 2-19-17
Lv 19:1-2, 17-18; Ps 103; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48
Deacon Jim McFadden; SJB & Folsom Prison
Last Sunday we reflected upon Jesus’ teaching not to seek revenge upon those who hurt us. Today, he goes further by calling us to love our enemies. How can we possibly will the good of those who are hurting us? How can we possibly live according to his really Strange Way.
Not retaliating to an injustice and loving one’s enemies are the most difficult of Jesus’ teachings. As difficult as these challenges are, they are the Gospel—we can’t get around them. We tend to ignore them: Christians are often as quick as anyone else to get even and to disparage our enemies. But, by ignoring our Lord’s teachings, we risk compromising our relationship with Christ Jesus Who is the Way into genuine relationship with the triune God and our neighbor.
Jesus simply says no longer is there an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. As Gandhi once said, if he live this way, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless. So, our Lord tells us that we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This hatred-forgiveness challenge was at the heart of a Sean Penn directed film called The Crossing Guard (1995), a striking film, suitable for a mature audience, in which Jack Nicholson portrays an intense, angry, vengeful father whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Obsessed with the tragic and unnecessary loss of his daughter, the father plots to kill the perpetrator upon his release from prison. In the meantime, he tries to numb his grief with drinking and promiscuity, which do nothing to alleviate his pain. He believes that revenge will make him whole. In so doing, he is self-destructing.
Most of us can identify with the father’s desire to get even; after all, ‘an eye-for-an-eye, a tooth-for-a-tooth’ has a long history in the Old Testament. The Nicholson character is simply part of this tradition; why couldn’t Jesus leave well enough alone? Why can’t we live out of our basic instincts for revenge and retribution? Why can’t we put people in our psychological cross-hairs when they’ve offended us?
We can’t, because God lives in each and everyone of us. We can’t, because the Lord instructed Moses that we are called to be holy as God is holy (Lv 19:2b). What does that mean? We are to mirror God’s magnanimous love, justice, and mercy because we are made in the image of God, who is love. Therefore, “You shall not bear hatred for our brother in your heart…Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love you’re your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (vs. 17-18). While the meaning of divine holiness is mysterious, we know exactly what it is like as we see it lived out by Jesus. We are called to imitate Christ, both individually and communally—which means we live out of God’s love in all of our relationships, including our enemies.
This kind of love that the Father has means that “he makes the sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:45). It’s from this disposition of being in God that the contrast between love and hate, revenge and forgiveness can be understood. As we participate in this divine Love, our lives will gradually be transformed; we will live like Christ by being non-violent and forgiving towards those who have injured us.
Simply put, Jesus is challenging us live a life patterned after the holiness of God; it is to live a life radically dependent upon grace. Such a life can only be lived in community because it is just too difficult to do by ourselves. We need models of Christian living that embody integrity, honesty, and faithfulness to one another. If we see someone doing wrong, we will rebuke them, but we are forbidden to entertain any kind of vengeance; we are told to love them as we love ourselves because that is the Way of Jesus. If we want to abide in Him, we have to live like Him.
To follow Jesus, one is becoming a truly free person who is not constrained by past wounds, current cultural biases, and future expectations. A follower of Jesus has a pure heart and sees with clarity: the person knows what the issues are, what the questions are, what the goal is, and knows Who God is. They have the One container, the over-arching narrative that can include everything and everyone—including their hurts and brokenness.
What happened to the Nicholson character? He lured his protagonist to a cemetery—a place of ultimate perspective—to kill him. But, in the final confrontation, he moves (or is moved) not to shoot, and to embrace the possibility for forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. The Gospel message was lived. The characters were moving towards the Kingdom. Amen.