Do you ever read the Gospel and hear words that you just don’t want to hear? Today perhaps is no different:
“To you who hear I say, love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.
To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them.
Luke makes Jesus sound like a doormat. Wouldn’t we all say that he’s describing a woman who was getting beat by her husband and kept going back to him and then made him a nice dinner?
Is there more to this than meets the eye? There must be.
Perhaps our first reading from Corinthians gives us a hint?
Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up.
If anyone supposes he knows something,
he does not yet know as he ought to know.
But if one loves God, one is known by him.
I would say that when we have knowledge of wrongdoing we can go overboard and find the person to be only that act that they committed. We can deprive people of their dignity even when they’ve done some very indignant things.
Later in the same reading…
But not all have this knowledge.
There are some who have been so used to idolatry up until now
that, when they eat meat sacrificed to idols,
their conscience, which is weak, is defiled.
Thus, through your knowledge, the weak person is brought to destruction,
the brother for whom Christ died.
When you sin in this way against your brothers
and wound their consciences, weak as they are,
you are sinning against Christ.
Paul urges that our actions have consequences (in this case eating defiled meat–a dated reference surely, but we can apply it here). I can remember seeing people doing things that I’d never expect them to do when I was younger. People having racist attitudes, people cheating others out of money, people being deceitful. Doesn’t that lead many of us to become what we are near? It’s like riding in a car with a chain smoker. Eventually, we both stink, even if he is the only one smoking.
I think the danger here is that we often lump everyone into the barrel that defines them by only their actions instead of transcending that attitude and trying to change our own environments by example. Sometimes we may have the hard task of calling someone out on the carpet for something they’ve done.
And quite often…I don’t wanna do that. It is in fact easier not to do that. A young student I know once asked me if I meet all my students at my office in the church. I told her most of the time, I do. Unless I know I’ll be at another convenient spot. She confessed feeling guilty at not being to mass in some time. Her family really didn’t prioritize it and she kind of fell into the same lack of practice.
The gospel today would call me not to beat this person up for their lack of practice but rather to consider what would most help them. I simply invited her to mass and told her the times of the services and that she would always be welcome. I had to consider that she’s more than a “lapsed Catholic”, rather she’s someone who wants to reconnect with God but might actually be too ashamed or embarrassed to do so. It would have been easier for me to say “no worries” and to just let it go, but I decided to make the invitation and I think it was received well because it led to 3 more questions about religion.
Our church is an evangelization organization. What do people really need? Why do people seek us from time to time and how do we move them to be closer to God.
It seems to me that an “enemy” might actually not be someone who is hostile but rather someone who is trapped and they need us to go to a place where we’d much rather not go. They’re someone on the other side who hopes that we might just reach a bit beyond our usual comfort zone. Perhaps a place of asking forgiveness and breaking the cycle of hatred and division? Perhaps a place of welcoming instead of shaming? Perhaps a place of peace instead of confusion and chaos? Perhaps a place of feeding instead of ignoring?
Where are you most called and to whom? Who is your enemy and how might you try just a bit to re-encounter them into your life, to change everything you’ve come to know about them and bring them into wholeness once again?