7TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: LOVE YOUR ENEMIES

love-your-enemies

The Gospel reading in today’s 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time continues the Sermon on the Mount from last week. In the gospel today we come to the most difficult instruction that Jesus ever uttered: “Love your enemies.”

In Proverbs 24:17 we’re told not to gloat when our enemy falls. In Proverbs 25:21 we’re told to feed our enemy when he’s hungry. But the blatant instruction to love our enemies came from Jesus in His sermon on the mount.

Much has been said, written and commented on this difficult words of Jesus. I would just like to highlight three things.

First, these words of Jesus is, indeed, radical. It represents a revolutionary new teaching from Jesus.

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

Ulrich Luz says that  “Love thy enemies” is what separates Christianity from all earlier religions. Ron Rolheiser said that to love one’s enemy is the acid-test of who’s a Christian and who isn’t. In a (2001) issue of America magazine, John Donahue makes this comment:

“Virtually no Christian group has adopted Jesus’ teaching on love of enemy as the critical test of orthodoxy. Yet Jesus issues four ringing commands: love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you.”

Second, we all cringe at these words of Jesus. It is unnatural, counter-intuitive and illogical. Therefore, we all struggle to follow Jesus’ words. On the other hand, Jesus’ words seemed to be hitting the core of the reality of many conflicts that continue to plague our world. We continue to live in times where is deep division and polarization between countries and religions, between individuals and groups, between political ideologies from both the left and the right, each party trying to impose on others their own view of what is right or wrong.

Third, it is very important that we don’t take Jesus’ words out of context. Many of the confusion and misconceptions that arose out of these text were the result of interpreting Jesus’ words literally without any consideration of the socio-cultural context upon which Jesus uttered these words.

Finally, Jesus’ words are based on his final command to “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus challenges us to go beyond our average and expected attitudes and behaviors as Christians.

For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?

To “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” is also expressed in the first reading today from the book of Leviticus.

“Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

“You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.”

We should not, however, take the word perfect out of context. When Jesus said that we need to “be perfect” he is not speaking of some kind of impossible flawlessness. The word perfect in the original Greek means complete. It comes from a primary word meaning to set out for a definite point or goal. Jesus is saying for us to make it our goal to love like our Heavenly Father loves.

The love of our Heavenly Father evokes completeness and inclusiveness demonstrated in the universality of the gifts of sun­shine and rain. The “heavenly Father,” gives Life (“sun rise” and “rain”) to “the just and the unjust” alike. It is precisely that quality of God’s universal love that we are to imitate.

 

6TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: FULFILLING GOD’S LAW

fulfilling-the-law

Today’s readings of the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time talk about fulfilling God’s law. The readings present us with a deeper and wholistic understanding of the fulfillment God’s law. The readings urge us not just to follow the ‘outside’ of the law but more importantly the ‘inside’ of the law.

The first reading from Sirach highlights for us that fulfilling God’s law is a radical choice between life and death, good and evil. Sadly, our desires and our thoughts  most often deviate from God’s will.

Before man are life and death, good and evil,
whichever he chooses shall be given him.
Immense is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.
The eyes of God are on those who fear him;
he understands man’s every deed.

Thus, the second reading, from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians, tells us that to fulfill the law is not to seek the wisdom of this age but the wisdom of God.

We speak a wisdom to those who are mature,
not a wisdom of this age,
nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.
Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden,
which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,

To Paul, the revelation of Jesus represents a vision that human eyes have never seen, a voice that human ears have never heard. It is beyond our wildest imaginings, “Nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus shows us that to completely fulfill the law is not just following the externals of the law but more importantly fulfilling the spirit of the law.

We continue in the gospel with the Sermon on the Mount. This is a long Gospel where we move into the part of the Sermon that scholars call the six antitheses. Six times in a row, the words of Jesus follow a pattern that goes, “You have heard that it was said … But I say to you … ” Here we see Jesus asserting an authority even greater than that of Moses.

In the Gospel, Jesus says that he has not come to do away with the law but to fulfill the law. In fact, no one will get into heaven unless his righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the law-observing scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus is critical of the Pharisees’ type of righteousness, which focuses on externals. They make sure everyone sees them when they fast, pray on street corners, wash hands, etc.

This whole sermon, at the beginning of Jesus’ preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, is not meant for exact execution, but for our interiorizing the heart and mind of Jesus. It is not about doing this or not doing that. It is about the “why” of our doing anything.

In reinterpreting the law, Jesus is not spinning the Law and the traditions passed on through the prophets. He is applying a proper spirit to what had become too legalistic. The spirit of Jesus is to form the heart as well as the mind. Jesus does not make new laws; for living the law, he brings a new vision and a new help—a refreshed covenant relationship with God.

Let us now examine Jesus’ applying the spirit of fulfilling the law into six example of laws from the Torah.

You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.

The inside of that law is, do not even act out of anger for your brother or sister. Jesus forbids anger and insults that could escalate to murder. He forbids calling another “fool,” though he hurls the word at the scribes and Pharisees in Mt 23:17. For Jesus, squelching the feud even takes precedence over Temple worship!

You shall not commit adultery.

When adultery is committed, the Torah called for the death of both parties. But more often than not, the man escaped while the woman’s father and brothers would kill her for shaming their family. If the aggrieved husband took no action against his wife, he was often regarded as an object of derision. If he took no action against the man, his own manhood was further questioned. Jesus says forget adultery as a means of challenging other men. The consequences are too devastating.

The rigid and strictly enforced separation of men and women in this society made adultery almost impossible to conceal when it happened. Actually, adultery was less a result of passion than a deliberate attempt by one man to shame another.

The inside of that law demands further to be pure enough to not even glance lustfully at a woman.

Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.

Divorce is disruptive to a tight-knit community like that of Jesus’ followers. Since the ideal marriage partners were first cousins (Peter’s mother-in-law was also his aunt), divorce could tear apart the villages in which these families lived and tried to make a living. Jesus is trying to say: “Forget divorce. Learn to live with your difficulty for the sake of family unity.”

The interior law is, stay faithful and loving within your marriage relationship, not just do not separate.

Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.

The context here is selling. There was no food and drug commission to insure honesty. A seller would indirectly call God to witness his claim for his wares. Never mentioning God by name, the seller would swear “by my head, by my beard, on my life, by Jerusalem, etc.” When he refused to make God explicit, conflict erupted. Jesus advised his followers to be honest and direct with one another at the market: yes or no.

Today people do use oaths, such as, “ … in the name of God, … ” or “OMG,” (which stands for O, MY GOD!), or e.g., “By God, I will never let you. … ” We hear such slang everywhere, movies, television, high schools, grade schools. Jesus diagnoses these usages simply: we are trying to make up for our weakness by putting almighty power behind our words. He tells us he has a better way. Just say yes or no, and mean it. Or, to say it another way, be real.

God’s “command of perfect love” obliges us to go beyond the letter of the law. It is not good enough to stay out of trouble; we must work at setting things right in the world. It is not good enough to give food to the hungry; we must work at making ours a society in which people do not go hungry.

Jesus sees in the law the means to the fulfillment of time (“until all things have taken place”), when the law will be replaced by righteous relationships within the kingdom of heaven. The fundamental law is gift of self to others. When self-giving is lacking in any act of keeping the law, the law in fact is not fulfilled.