7th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Feb 19, 2023
Last weekend, we looked at how tough love challenges us to go beyond the law and its obligations and to immerse ourselves, instead, in a generous, heartfelt response to the reasons why the law is or is not valid to our lives as Christians today.
This weekend, we’ll explore how to tough love challenges us to love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors. Sometimes, those persecutors may be closer to us than we think.
Last week, Mrs. Smith was fumbling in her purse for her offering envelope at church when a large television remote fell out and clattered into the aisle.
A nearby usher bent over to retrieve it for her and whispered, “Do you always carry your TV remote with you to church?”
“No,” she replied, “but my husband refused to come with me this morning, and so, I figured this was the best way I could make him suffer legally.” (www.stewardshipoflife.org)
If Mr. Smith were indeed a Christian, he’d pray for his wife who persecuted him by taking his remote while she was in church. Loving humanity-in-general, is easy. It’s when people become ‘a person’ that it starts to get tough!
I hope that you’re still praying for the one person you selected two weeks ago, who’s in need of some tough love from you. Loving those closest to us, sometimes becomes the hardest thing we have to do, because we all fail, from time to time, to live up to the demands of the gospel and so, we’re all in need of God’s mercy and grace to pick ourselves up, and try again.
It becomes even tougher when the gospel challenges us to love our nosey neighbor, our demanding clients, our annoying boss. It becomes even more challenging when we’re charged with loving our persecutors, our detractors, and our enemies!
–still in Matthew Chapter 5. —Still being challenged by Jesus with the repeated phrase, ‘But I say to you!’ to go further than the law prescribes.
“You have heard it was said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you, do not resist an evil doer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (Mt 5:38b-39)
We have a natural inclination to want to retaliate when we’re injured or wronged. We sometimes may even want to escalate the damage that was done to us to prove a point.
The old Testament admonition ‘an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ was meant to make things somewhat fair and even. (see Exodus 21:23) But in Jesus’ estimation, it just makes two parties rather than one, eyeless and toothless. It perpetuates the damage. That’s why Jesus asks us to not resist an evil doer. Clarification—
Not advocating being passive in the face of evil.
Not advocating that Christians never fight for what’s just, right and true
Jesus resisted all the time!
Corrupt religious leaders of his time
Money-changers outside the temple
Mob who wanted to kill him
He advocates being predisposed to take the higher, more difficult road when it comes to experiencing evil or injustice.
I.E. Mother Theresa’s ministry to the poor in Calcutta
JP2’s work to combat communism in Eastern Europe
When Jesus asks us to turn the other cheek, what he has in mind is an insult that someone has hurled our way. Jesus’ approach is to be slow to take offense when it’s made. His approach is to consider all the possible ways to handle a given situation, to elicit the best possible outcome.
“If any wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well, and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them also the second mile.” (MT 5: 39b-40)
A coat was worn underneath a cloak as the cloak was a thicker garment used for travel and for sleeping. In Roman law, Jews were required to serve the Roman military on demand, a law that bred resentment among the Jews.
The point here: a disciple should be willing to go to extremes to replace pride with humility, to give willing and joyful consent when asked to help another in need.
Next, Jesus says, “you have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
Leviticus 19:18 indeed challenges us to love our neighbor, but nowhere does it say to hate your enemy.
Not a teaching of the OT
A teaching of the pharisees, who taught hating one’s enemies as a religious value in lieu of the Roman occupation of Israel. —Easy to hate those who hate us.
Jesus says, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
How are we supposed to do that? That’s tough!
Jesus’ answer? “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5: 44b-45)
God’s law transcends natural law and even the law of Moses!
What’s impossible for human beings to achieve on their own is possible with God!
God can transform any situation with his divine love.
–Best not to go near a person who wants to harm us
— the best way we can demonstrate our love is by praying for them.
Love is rarely fair, even when directed toward those who love us back.
We don’t want fair. I don’t want what I deserve; I don’t want what my sinful actions may have merited; I don’t want God to be fair to me.
And God doesn’t give us fair. He give us, Jesus, his Son. God the Father goes way beyond fair by sending Jesus to redeem sinful humanity with his Precious Blood.
Indeed, Jesus rhetorically asks, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the gentiles do the same?”
In other words, there’s no virtue in loving those who love us! There’s no special grace we need to love those who love us! No, we’re rewarded when we do the tough thing and love those who are tough to love!
What’s the reward? The reward of loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors and giving whenever we can, and not taking offense and choosing humility over pride is a process of perfection. That’s discipleship! A process of perfection.
We shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus challenges us to love those tough to love.
The central symbol of our faith in the crucified Christ on the Cross. A symbol that proclaims more eloquently than any words ever could, of just how far God is willing to go out of love for us. (we can demonstrate our love for those suffering from the aftermath of the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey be sending whatever money we can spare to the relief organizations that are printed in today’s bulletin.)
Next weekend, we’ll begin a new series for Lent based on the theme, “That we might live justly, like God.”
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