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02.19.2023 Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time


Angel with Bird

Yatnov Sergey

1958

Dzerzinsk, Rusia


Lectio

Matthew 5: 38-48

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. 39But I say to you, ‘Do not resist an evildoer’. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. 44But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous’. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.


Meditatio

God loves his enemies

Today’s passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount. In verse 45, Jesus is talking about God the Father. In the immediate prior verses, Jesus notes popular sayings[1] and gives countercultural instructions[2]: Jesus adds the motivating principle supporting the command, namely that “you may be children of your Father in heaven”.


Loving one’s enemies is the best expression of our Christian identity; however, being a child of God is a gift that does not need to be earned. In old days, it was understood that being a “child” implied to learn from and imitate their own parents. Thus, James and John were called “sons of thunder”[3] because of their potentially hot temper; They had “thunderous personalities”. In our case, therefore, to the extent that we, children of God, exhibit a certain characteristic of God, to that extent we will be considered children of God.


This allows us to formulate the following question: “How does God love His enemies? Jesus gives two practical examples: “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” and “He sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous”.


In the agrarian society where Jesus lived, the survival of the people depended on good weather[4]. In their mentality, the righteous farmers would be considered friends of God’s, and the unrighteous farmers God’s enemies.

However, regardless of the farmer’s disposition toward God, God gives sunshine and rain equally to all of them.


This is an example of how God loves his enemies, by giving good sunshine and good rain, indistinctively. He gives good gifts to all.


However, we may argue that God treats all equally in this life but awaits for future judgment to avert his rage, as some may interpret some of the sayings of Jesus[5]. But, does this make sense in the light of the Paschal Mystery, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus? Will the God who graciously gives good things, to those who hate Him, treat them differently at the hour of death? Will the God who gives the blessing of rain to the just and the unjust alike and the God who takes care of wicked people, of people who mock Him and even deny His existence, who allows them to enjoy good weather, good food, the love of family, and a great many other things; … deny all those blessings when a person comes to Him in repentance and faith in Christ at the end of their lives?


Will then God forget his loving-kindness and the mercy exercised during the life span of a person and transform it into ugly condemnation as if “having regretted” of his unfailing love?


That is inconsistent with the teachings and ministry of Jesus who forgave the repentant sinner and, indeed his very executioners at the moment of his death.


This argument has been beautifully portrayed in the novel by William Young: God will rather wait an eternity to purify the souls of sinners than casting a verdict of condemnation upon one of his children[6].


The Church declares: “The Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death (Song of Songs 8: 6). … The message of the Last Judgment calls men to conversion while God is still giving them ‘the acceptable time, … the day of salvation’” (2Corithians 6: 2). It inspires a holy fear of God and commits them to the justice of the Kingdom of God. It proclaims the ‘blessed hope’ of the Lord’s return, when He will come ‘to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at in all who have believed[7]


Since God is so generous with His enemies, then we should be as well. God’s unconditional forgiveness is a school of forgiveness for us who want to overcome our waywardness, our limited capacity to forgive. We want to avoid the temptation of holding grudges until a day when we explode in rage, when we think that forgiveness is not worth the effort anymore.


In the light of this Gospel, we see that denying one’s dignity in the face of an evil behaviour and offering the second cheek, far from being a moral precept, it is an Easter Proclamation of the infinite love of God shown in Jesus Christ[8].


And it will only be in the power of the Resurrection of Christ that Christians will truly be children of God in such a way that our way of life mirrors the forgiveness and the loving kindness of our God, our Father who enables us to offer the second cheek and walk the extra mile.

Oratio

“Dear Heavenly Father,

O how our hearts struggle to forgive wholly and fully.

We thank You for demonstrating such forgiveness

by graciously extending it to us.

Help us forgive freely and let go of bitterness,

and grant us the strength to trust Your way is best.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen”.


Contemplatio

o In silence, we contemplate Jesus who at the hour of his Death, loved the enemy who killed him.


o Have I ever felt within me such a great anger as to want to apply the vengeance “eye for eye, tooth for tooth”? What did I do to overcome this drive?


o What does it mean for me the phrase: “To be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect?


o The longest-lived, most-fulfilled people have truly used life as one long personal growth seminar. They have faced challenges and still come out the other end brimming with optimism. So how can I do the same thing? How can the advice of Jesus help me to improve relationships in the sphere of my family and of the Community?

 

[1]Matthew 5: 38. 43: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’”. [2]Matthew 5: 39-43: ‘Do not resist an evildoer’. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 44Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. [3] Mark 3:17 [4]Genesis 41: 53-55: “The seven years of plenty that prevailed in the land of Egypt came to an end; and the seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in every country, but throughout the land of Egypt there was bread. When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread”. [5]Matthew 13: 30: “Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’”. [6]YOUNG, William Paul,The Shack”, Hodder & Stoughton, 2008, p. 155: “Mack responded slowly and deliberately. ‘It doesn’t matter, really. I admit that it [the behaviour of my children] does affect me and sometimes I get embarrassed or angry, but even when they act badly, they are still my son or my daughter, they are still Josh or Kate, and they will be forever. What they do might affect my pride, but not my love for them’”. [7] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1040-1041. [8]Isaiah 50: 5-6: “The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting”.

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