7th Sunday Ordinary Time
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: February 19, 2023
Which teaching of Jesus do you think is most ignored in our world today? Which teaching of Jesus do you think is the most difficult to obey?
We just heard in the Sermon on the Mount. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This teaching is quietly ignored by most people and by most us who call ourselves Christians. I think that it is the most difficult teaching of Jesus to follow.
But, it is also perhaps the teaching that could make the most difference in our world. The one teaching that could really change our world for the better.
This is the supreme challenge of Christian faith. This radical embrace is the one thing that separates Christianity from all other religions. All religions, in some form or another, have the commandment to love God and love your neighbour as yourself. But, this new commandment to “love your enemy” goes radically deeper.
Jesus was not passive in the face of evil, but only offered non-violent resistance. For the reign of God will lead to the complete elimination of every form of violence between people and nations.
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” means, do not be to others as they are to you. Otherwise they control your behaviour. This calls for a change of heart, where my heart only follows the heart of God. Praying for those who persecute us is important because that prayer is able to form our hearts in a new way. We are not formed by our enemies but formed by God. It does not mean to be passive in the face of evil or injustice. But, it is a non-violent resistance so that we do not become what we hate.
Martin Luther King once said, “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding.” This is the real test of authentic Christian faith. Love of enemies.
The first step to living this love of enemies is recognizing our own dignity. That you are loved by God and have an essential dignity. If a wife is being physically abused by her husband, the first step is for that woman to recognize her own dignity, that she does not deserve to be treated in that way. Then she can resist and remove herself from a situation in which her dignity is not respected.
Do we see the image of God in the outsiders, in the least of our brothers and sisters? Do we see the image of God even in our enemies? Either we see the image of God in all created things or we don’t see it at all. If our love is limited, if our acceptance of others is limited, then we are not seeing with the eyes of God.
Jesus is pushing us deeper. If we choose to hate or to reject certain people then we are not faithful to the vision of Jesus. Do I exclude people of a different race, or people of a different religion, or sick people or gay people or people on welfare or homeless people or whomever we have decided to hate, then we are not seeing with the eyes of Jesus.
If some religious or political leader is teaching in a way that causes you to hate, if they are leading you to hate a certain group of people, then turn away from their teaching. Any leader who encourages hatred of a group of people is not worth following. That should be an automatic sign to us that it is someone we should not follow
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This is perhaps the most difficult teaching of Jesus. It is one which we often choose to ignore. Hatred leads us to become like our enemy, to become what we hate.
Only love of enemies can form our heart into the heart of God. Love of enemies is the ultimate test of true Christian faith, it is the one teaching that is most capable of changing our lives and our world for better.