Now, listen because I’m only going to say this once.” Growing up with six brothers and three sisters, these words were frequently on my mother’s lips and I was reminded of them when I read the opening words of the Gospel for today. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘To you who hear, I say,’ Jesus continues with the sermon on the plain challenging us to love our enemies. This is perhaps the toughest challenge Jesus gives us in his ministry and yet He practiced what he preached to the point of dying on the cross for the atonement of our sins. It is almost unnecessary to preach a homily on this Gospel simply because the Gospel reading preaches itself. Loving our enemies and doing good for those we do not like is not easy as we all know. Withholding judgment on others is not very easy either. However, Jesus is clearly expanding on the “golden rule”, do to others as you would have them do to you.
As I prayed about it, the thought that came back to me over and over, was one of the formulations of Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative: I shall never treat another human being as a means to an end but rather as an end unto himself. This came to mind because it gives us a practical way to live the golden rule with others including our enemies. Jesus tells his disciples that they are to live and act in ways that sets them apart – “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you………. Give to everyone who asks of you…………Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful…… Stop judging and you will not be judged……Give and gifts will be given to you.” This is not just a suggestion or a recommendation. It is a command given to all who seek to follow Jesus.
Today we are faced with four imperatives—love, do good, bless, pray – that leave us in no doubt about how a Christian should behave in the face of evil. They are the unequivocal evidence that Jesus rejects, in the strongest terms, the use of violence in any form. However, non-violent resistance doesn’t necessarily stop further aggression – that is why it calls for considerable courage,- but it changes the dynamic; it shows clearly where the dignity lies. Taking this into our day to day lives we cannot think of those with whom we live, or others as existing to serve us. We must see ourselves as existing to help them on their way to salvation, as needing love, perhaps even tough love at times. This is a really challenging section of the Gospel, and I do believe that until we start living it, we will inevitably remain stuck in the never-ending cycle of violence that has plagued our world since Cain killed his brother Abel. Not just violence between tribes, religious groups and nations, but also the low-level violence of constant provocation and retaliation: gossip, criticism, getting even with and passive aggression, that happen at micro level and plague our more regular interactions in families, religious communities and work places to name but a few.
This is not an easy task, and so prayer is necessary. St. Augustine tells us “Do not seek outside, but enter into yourself, for truth dwells in the interior person”. Only prayer puts off aggression, disarms the heart, communicates the feelings of the Father who is in heaven and gives the strength that comes from God’s love. Prayer for the enemy is the high point of love because it presupposes a heart willing to be purified from all forms of hatred. When we put ourselves before God we cannot lie. We can only ask him to touch the hearts of those who do evil; and when we manage to pray like this, the heart becomes attuned with the heart of the Father, “who makes the sun rise on both the wicked and the good, and the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:45). As God has loved and cared for us, and shown us His mercy in so many ways, we in turn are called to do this for one another. So, Luke’s presentation of the teaching of Jesus ends as it began, pointing the way to true happiness in the gifts of God that will be ours when we identify with the generous ways of God. Our joy will be ‘’a full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. For the measure we give will be the measure we get back.’’
Mairead Morrissey OP