• Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 • 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 • Matthew 5:38-48 • 7 Ordinary A’14
Weekly Scripture Readings: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Print PDF: Weekly Homily 02.16.2014
The text is difficult and challenging. We cannot simply ignore it and still claim the name “Christian.” “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 harm you.”
More than seven billion people now share life on this planet with us. We come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Our languages, cultures and religions are diverse but ultimately superficial. We share common threads of DNA. We share common needs for clean air, clean water and nourishing food. We share the same hopes and dreams for our selves and our children.
There is a problem! We all encounter folks we don’t like. Some are simply rude and lack basic courtesy; some are arrogant or narcisstic; some may have harmed us or family or friend. When we are harmed, intuitive, primal feelings rooted in our DNA begin to bubble up from deep down inside. Those emotions are powerful. Feelings of anger and a desire for vengeance in response to harm are normal.
For ages we humans have been struggling individually and communally to manage such feelings.
Dominant cultures of every age accepted those feelings. “An eye for an eye” affirmed it was legitimate to hurt the person who injured us — to “hate your enemy.”
Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man – the Human Being, challenges us to rise above those feelings and create a more human world for all of us. He lived out of the conviction that we are truly human only when love is the basis of our actions. We all know from personal experience that harboring feelings of hostility, hatred and a desire for retaliation dehumanize us.
I recently read a book titled “Unbroken.” It is the story of a young Italian athlete from California who had successfully competed in the Berlin Olympic Games. His name was Louie. He joined the air force and in 1943 the plane on which he was the bombardier crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He and two others struggled into tiny life rafts and survived without food, water or shelter for forty days!
They were in the most desperate physical extremity when captured by the Japanese army. During the 2½ years they were held in POW camps with minimal food and lack of sanitation, the guards brutalized and degraded them. Louie survived those camps. Years later he suffered the effects of extreme post-traumatic stress until he let go of his anger and hatred for his tormentors.
His story confronted me with the challenge of this gospel text. What could he and the other POW’s do? It seemed that resorting to violence was they only way they could free themselves of the violence being done to them. What would I do in similar circumstances? How can I or we as a nation eliminate violence from our world? Such questions continue to confront us.
Jesus does not offer a technical solution to such questions. Jesus does not say whether violence might be a legitimate response to a specific situation like that of those POW’s. He does express a deep conviction about what it means to be human. We are truly human only when love is the basis of our actions. Love of enemies does not mean tolerating injustice or violence. Love of the enemy does imply we will combat evil without seeking the destruction or harm of the adversary. Evil can be overcome only by love.
“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 harm you.” The life and teaching of Jesus challenge me in many ways, but this text is by far the greatest challenge in my life and to my life! I am resolved to continue practicing: trying to do good for others; trying to accept and value what is good in each person. It is not easy, especially when I don’t feel respect for an individual. Love comes from deep inside my spirit. So I am resolved to continue practicing.