Get ready: Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 5:38-48) is very challenging: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Now, you may be saying you are doing the best you can. Please do not become discouraged. Yes, this is a tall order and it may be complicated with some long-standing relationships in your life. Let’s look at this a little.
First, love means doing what is best for another person. Therefore, letting people walk all over you or letting people take advantage of your good will is not necessarily loving them. You have heard the expression “tough love.” Sometimes tough love is the only way to help someone, especially with people caught in the web of addiction.
Second, loving your enemies does not mean allowing someone to abuse you physically, psychologically or verbally. Too often people in an abusive relationship think they deserve to be treated this way or that they are not worthwhile. If you are in an abusive relationship, get out of the relationship. You are worthwhile and you do not deserve to be treated in an abusive manner.
So, what does it mean to love your enemies? A clue to the answer is found in the teaching of Jesus: “You have heard that it was said: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you…” Jesus invites us to go further than the traditional teaching of His time.
Go the extra mile! “Turn the other cheek…Hand over your cloak as well… give to the one who asks.”
Then comes the real kicker: “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.” How is this possible? It is not possible left to ourselves and our frail human nature. We like some people. We don’t like other people. We look up to some people and we look down on other people. Loving our enemies and forgiving those who hurt us is beyond the human reach. Forgiveness and loving our enemies is a grace. Jesus gives us the strength to do this. That is why He died on the cross so that we could be healed and made whole again.
We are invited to be who we are: the holy people of God, the children of the light and of the day. As we hear in the first reading from the Book of Leviticus: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:1). This is reinforced in the second reading: “Brothers and sisters: do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwells in you” (2 Corinthians 3:16)? We are capable of love because God is love. We can love one another because God has first love us (the first letter of John).
In the first part of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told us who we are: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.”
Loving one’s enemies is still a tall order. But then again, all things are possible with God.
May the Lord give you peace.