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If I cannot yet live by your gospel fully, Lord Jesus, help me pray to be able to someday.  And if I cannot yet do even that, help me to ask for your grace.  Amen.

February 18, 2007

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Sm 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23

1 Cor 15:45-49

Lk 6:27-38

This reading from Luke is one of the most difficult passages in the Bible, because it asks us to be all the things that we are not.  Jesus says:

–– Love your enemies.

–– Turn the other cheek.

–– Give to those who beg from you.

–– Lend to those who cannot repay.

–– Don’t judge other people.

–– Forgive so that you will be forgiven.

Those are “hard sayings.”  We——I, don’t want to hear them, because they call me to an unnatural life.  It is natural:

–– To hate your enemies.

–– To strike back.

–– To walk past the person in need.

–– To get a guaranteed repayment on loans.

–– To judge other people.

–– To seek revenge instead of forgiveness.

When Jesus calls us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to give to those who beg from us, and so on, he turns our world upside down.  All of those things are very unnatural.  We would prefer a Christ who would confirm all our prejudices and tell us how great we are.  Instead, we find a Christ who calls us to change––to become unnatural.

And so, Jesus comes to us saying, “Love your enemies––turn the other cheek––give to those who beg from you––lend money without thought of repayment––don’t judge––forgive.  And we respond, “Come on Jesus!  How can any of us do all that—only you are that strong, that loving, that giving.  Be reasonable!”

But Jesus didn’t come from heaven to earth to be reasonable.  He came to transform us.  He came to make a difference.  He came to change us and our world.  And, to the extent that we follow his teachings, he does change us and our world.

This teaching goes directly against common sense.  Loving your enemies just gives them a chance to hit you one more time.  Doing good to those who hate you is codependency at best and masochism at worst.  Giving to everyone who begs means that you will soon become a beggar yourself and find out most people don’t give to those who beg.

One of the interesting little tidbits I picked up while preparing this homily is that while an eye for an eye appears three times in the Scriptures, the concept of mercy appears 3 thousand times.  Now I didn’t personally count those so I can’t vouch for the accuracy, but knowing the God we worship those statistics don’t surprise me.

Love of one’s enemies is among Jesus’ most distinctive, characteristic and difficult teachings.  Most of us have a hard enough time loving our family and friends, or even loving ourselves.  But to do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us and pray for those who mistreat us seems to go beyond our ordinary human powers.  Jesus offers two reasons why we should love our enemies: It may be wise to do so on the human level and in doing so we imitate the example of God.

For us, who heard the Beatitudes last week, it is clear that everyone, no matter how they seem, is holy to the Lord.  I’m called to treat absolutely everyone I meet better than they may seem to deserve, because absolutely everyone I meet is infinitely more sacred to the Lord than they may seem to me.  Even David realized this when he was in a position to kill Saul who had become his bitter enemy.  I can only say it was a good thing it was David and not Dennie, I doubt Dennie would have said, “Do not harm him, for who can lay hands on the Lord’s anointed…”

The examples which Jesus provides to illustrate the word “love” are not directed at feelings but at actions.  Jesus calls us to love, but he doesn’t mean that we must have warm and fuzzy feelings for those who mistreat us.  It has nothing to do with how we feel about a person, nothing to do with liking the person, nothing to do with what they deserve, nothing to do with getting anything in return.  Instead, we are to act in ways calculated to benefit the other person––––to make that person’s welfare our concern.

Jesus clearly establishes that we, as his disciples, are not to allow people of lesser principles to set the agenda.  We are not to wait to see what the other person will do before we decide what we will do.  We are to seize the initiative by loving, doing good, blessing and praying.

We are not only to avoid behavior that we would not want to experience, but are to practice behavior that we would want to experience.  This is much more pro-active and dynamic.

Jesus tells us, essentially, “Don’t sit around and wait for others to be good to you.  Do it first.”

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