Reflections on the Readings
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 23, 2014 - Year A
Love of a Different Sort
"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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." - Jesus
Just exactly what you wanted to hear, right? Especially those of us who are red-blooded American macho types!
What, no "Amens" from the Amen corner? No, "Preach it brother, preach it?"
Confession time. I'm first in line with the folks wanting to protest.
"Jesus! Love who?"
OK, let's take a deep breath.
Our culture, our movies and romance stories speak of love as an emotional feeling. But we don't have any warm and fuzzy feelings about our enemies. Therefore loving our enemies does not compute. However, there's no wiggle room to get out of this one. It's straightforward: "Love your enemies and pray for them."
Let's establish some givens.
For example, if someone breaks into my house tonight and threatens me and my family, that's an enemy who should be sure he's said his prayers. Second, Christians have enemies. There's no doubt about it. Persecution is inevitable. Jesus reminded his followers that He was persecuted first. Jesus said, "If the world hates you, just remember that it hated me first."(John 15:18ff) And third, Jesus didn't say work hard and see how many enemies you can make. In fact, we are not in the business of making enemies. But if you don't have any enemies or any resistance to you being a Christian, you might check your spiritual temperature. Jesus said, "Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets." (Luke 6:26)
No one in recorded scripture is more scarred for his faith than the Apostle Paul who bore in his flesh the marks of Jesus (Galatians 5:17) Yet he organized no militia, Christian or otherwise. When it came to vengeance he said that it belongs to the Lord. With fervent love for Christ he saw no future in damning and cursing those who persecute the Church. In an eloquence that is astonishing Paul wrote:
"Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. No, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:14-21)
It is said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. And the good works of love, rather than retribution, may pierce the hardened conscience of those who oppose Christ. It is not a given, but it is a possibility. Pharaoh resisted plagues and pests. One Old Testament professor I had explained that the same sun that melts better, hardens clay. So a good prayer for our enemy is that he or she may have a heart that is receptive to the gospel.
Many think an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the only way to define true justice. But how does that work out? It seems after awhile of living by that standard we will only become blind people with no teeth. We who are the sons and daughters of the Father are called to a higher way. Our Lord himself showed us how to pray for our enemies. From the Cross Jesus prayed for his enemies saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Neither Pilate nor any of the rulers of the time understood who Jesus really was. If they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Cor. 2:7)
Stephen was a deacon in the early Church and her first martyr. In his preaching he described his detractors as stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and always resisting the Holy Spirit. With his words they were cut to the heart and deeply enraged, even grinding their teeth against the good Deacon. But when Stephen looked up into heaven and declared he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God his enemies screamed with a loud voice and stopped their ears from hearing anymore. In unison the enraged crowd rushed upon Stephen and promptly dragged him out of the city where they proceeded to stone him to death.
As they stoned Stephen they watched him crumple to the ground upon his knees. At last they stopped hurling their stones and their hatred and listened to Stephen pray this prayer:
"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And then with a loud voice so that all could hear him he prayed, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Who do you think ended their day that tragic afternoon with more peace?
As Jesus said, we are in the world, but we are not of it. The Apostle Paul describes our union with Christ as crucified with him. Nevertheless we live, yet not life as this world understands life. We live by the faith of the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. Some are outspoken enemies of the cross of Christ. Writing to the Philippians Paul explained his burden for those who despise the cross:
For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Phil. 3:18)
Paul did not gloat in this. Rather, he spoke with a heart inspired by love of another sort. That love he carried as the treasure it is in an earthen body he called a temple of the Holy Spirit. And in the Spirit he lived in that love that is patient and kind; that is never jealous or boastful; it is never arrogant or rude.
May we greet all with that perfect charity that is not easily offended. And thus shall we be true sons and daughters of our Father who is in heaven. Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com