We have an old saying in Tagalog, “Madaling maging tao, mahirap magpakatao” (It’s easy to be born human, it’s hard to live a true human). Similarly, we can apply this to Christian life, “Madaling maging Kristiyano, mahirap magpakaKristiyano” (It’s easy to be baptized Christian, it’s hard to live as a true Christian).
One of the manifestations why it is hard to live as true Christians is that many Christians live only the bare minimum of Christianity. I call them minimal Christians. This comes in various forms. First are Catholics who are called KBL which means Kasal, Binyag, Libing (wedding, baptism and funeral), they show up in the church when they are baptized, when they are married and finally on their funeral. Another form is Cerrado Catolico (closed Catholic). They expressed their Christianity by being closed to other religion, born a Catholic, always a Catholic. But that’s all there is to their Christian life. The third form of minimal Christianity is living Christian life as an obligation, a set of rules, of do’s and don’ts; their faith is centered on following the 10 commandments. As long as they follow the 10 commandments, they believe that they are fulfilling their faith. The fourth form of minimal Christianity is being Christians through the sacraments only. They regularly receive the sacraments; they go to mass every day, they go to confession once a month, they pray the rosary every day and they pray the novena weekly. They do not however, see a connection between the sacraments and the real life situation. This is what Jesuit Fr. Jaime Bulatao called split-level Christianity. There is a split or divorce between the worship they celebrate inside the church and the actual life outside. This is also perhaps the basis behind the false interpretation of many about separation between church and state. Religion has nothing to do with the dirty and corrupt things happening in economics and politics.
Today’s readings of the 7th Sunday in ordinary time challenge these minimal and narrow mindsets. In the first reading from the 1st book of Samuel, David spares the life of King Saul after being hunted down by the king. It was perfectly permissible and encoded in the Law to exact an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” By most reasonable judgment, David could have finished off his enemy and predator. Yet, at the very moment when God had delivered Saul into David’s grasp, the chance to drive a final stab to the heart and end the threat, David turned away from revenge and violence. This story shows one of the greatest feature of David’s character—his magnanimity. He was generous in overlooking injury and insult, and rose above pettiness and meanness. David’s sparing Saul’s life was a gesture of mercy which superseded the Law.
Today’s gospel is the continuation of last Sunday’s gospel on the beatitudes which is the summary of the new commandment of Jesus. Today’s gospel outlines some of the concrete and practical application of the beatitudes. The biggest challenge to living the beatitudes is how to go beyond the minimal standards of living our faith. Jesus challenges the people in today’s gospel to go beyond the faith of the pagans and sinners. If people get a reward for each thing they do, they are no different from the pagans. Jesus said,
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who do good to you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners do the same.
If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners,
and get back the same amount.
Jesus’ norms of behavior challenge us to move from the already high standard “do to others as you would have them do to you” to the even higher standard “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
So Jesus instruct the people to love their enemies, bless those who curse them, give people their other cheek to slap, offer more goods to those who are taking things from them, lend without expecting repayment, and go through life without judging or condemning anyone.
Why do we have to act this way? Because this is God’s way. To be a Christian is to follow the divine way. God’s love is not conditional. God’s love is not vindictive. God’s love is not limited.
for [God] himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
In other words, this is how God treated us. Our behavior toward others is to be the reflection of the treatment we receive from God. The biblical ethic is essentially one of response to God’s treatment of his people—this is true both in the Old Testament and in the New. Jesus calls us to live as “children of the Most high” in concrete and practical way. We are empowered to act in this way because of the extravagant good measure with which God continually acts toward us. Thus, the measure of being a genuine Christian is the unconditional and gratuitous love of God for all. When we live in accordance with God’s standards, we will receive overflowing blessings. Then God’s love will flow out to others through us.
Give, and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”
But this is simply ultra darn hard.
We live in a society where the standard for many is “dog eat dog” and getting ahead at any cost. We must love our friends, and love those who love us. We can’t let people get away with slapping us in the face. When someone takes something away from you, steps must be taken to have the stolen goods returned. When we lend someone something, we expect them to pay it back. Criminals are to be judged, and wrongdoers are to be condemned.
Is it even possible to just love—and never to get our own empty tank filled back up? How can we love without any return? Certainly, we will burn-out in the long run.
This is the reason why God came down to become human like us in Jesus. As Paul writes to the Corinthians in the second reading: “The spiritual was not first: first came the natural and after that the spiritual. The first man was of earth, formed from dust, the second is from heaven.”
How does Jesus, the “heavenly Adam,” coming together with the “earthly Adam” (Adam which is the representative of all humanity) cut a path for us? The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar said that Christ cut a path for us by being grace ascending and grace descending. Jesus is just as much creation’s highest response to the Father as he is the Father’s Word to creation. As St. Paul implied, the death and resurrection of Jesus opens for us the possibility of attaining authentic human existence.
It is easy to be baptized Christian but it is hard to live a true Christian life enlightened and empowered by the gospel. A genuine Christian life struggles to live the radical demands of Jesus’ gospel. It goes beyond living the faith in name only, being a closed Catholic, as an obligation, set of rules, of do’s and don’ts, and sacramental only separated from the humdrum experiences of daily life. We cannot do this by our own efforts. Only through the grace of Jesus Christ and by our willing cooperation that we can truly fulfill the radical demands of the gospel.