Love of Enemies

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.







Being Salt and Light

5th Sunday in O.T. (A); February 5, 2017

Is 58:7-10   Ps 112   1 Cor 2:1-5   Mk 5:13-16

Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison

         What can salt and light teach us about God and his Kingdom? What can it teach you about living here in Folsom Prison? Jesus used very ordinary images to illustrate the Kingdom of God—that condition where human choice intersects with the Father’s will. Salt was a very valuable commodity in the ancient world. People traded with it like we do with gold and stock.  Salt also had a useful purpose in hot climates many centuries before the invention of electricity and refrigeration.   Salt not only gave food flavor, it also preserved meat from spoiling.

Jesus used this image of salt to explain how his disciples are to live in the world. Just as salt purifies, preserves, and penetrates, so the disciple must be as salt in the world they inhabit. How can you help to purify, preserve, and penetrate the society of Folsom Prison for the Kingdom of God and his right way of being in the world? There’s a basic choice: either you live out of your own willful purposes in the pursuit of the goods of the world—such as security, reputation, pleasure, and control–or you live according to God’s purposes because He is the center of your life.

What would that look like? The prophet Isaiah in the first reading shows us the way.

Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the

            oppressed and the homeless;/

            Clothing the naked when you see them, and not

            turning your back on your own” (Is 58:7).

In other words, you do what God does: you give yourself away—you share your gifts, talents, and time with your fellow inmates. You share the Eucharistic bread with those who are hungry by bringing Christ to them. Just as you receive the Bread of Life at Communion, as you leave the chapel you become the Bread of Life to C-facility. You shelter those who are oppressed and homeless—that is, those who have lost their connection to the one true God– by witnessing that there is an alternative way of living that will liberate them and bring them home. When we “move, live, and have our being” in Christ Jesus, we are free and are grounded in what is True and Good. When you are being conformed to Christ, you become transformed and it shows. In you, inmates in this yard will know Christ. For some the only Gospel they’ll read is the seeing the way you live your life. That’s why inmates who don’t attend services, still recognize that something good is happening within you. So, they bring you their prayer requests so that you will pray for them and their loved ones when you gather in community prayer.

Jesus also used the image of light and a lamp to further illustrate the Kingdom of God. Lamps in the ancient world served a vital function, much like they do today. They enable people to see and work in the dark and avoid stumbling. The Jews also understood “light” to be an expression of the inner beauty, truth and goodness of God. As the Psalmist says In his light we see light (Psalm 36:9). Jesus is the Word of God and, as such, his word is a lamp that guides our steps (Psalm 119:105). God’s grace not only illumines the darkness in our lives, but it also fills us with spiritual light, joy, and peace. Yes, the darkness of Folsom Prison can be filled with light, joy, and peace if you cooperate with grace. If you say “yes” to God’s invitation to intimacy, communion, and fellowship, you then become God’s instrument.   Brothers, as the light of Christ shines into your hearts, it not only enables you to see the reality of God’s Kingdom here in prison, but you become a light-bearer of Christ so that others may see the truth that you are experiencing. As members of the Body of Christ, the Church, Jesus is relying upon you to help others to be freed from the blindness of sin and deception that is the dominant consciousness of this culture.

Brothers, we can’t hide from God. Nothing remains hidden or kept secret. We can spend a lot of energy trying to hide things from others, ourselves, and from God. How tempting it is to shut our eyes from the consequences of our choices, our sinful ways and bad habits, even when we know what those consequences are. Even though we can fool ourselves, we can’t deceive God because EVERYTHING is known to God who sees all.

Once we accept that, once we surrender to the One who is our beginning and end, we will enjoy great freedom and joy because we are living in his Light. Those who listen to God and heed his voice and obey his will, will receive more from him. They will receive Life in abundance.

Brothers, do you know the joy and freedom of living in God’s light?