7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 19, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
In today’s Gospel Jesus makes one of the
most radically challenging demands in Scripture:
” I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you.”
If we’re honest with ourselves, this passage should be very intimidating.
It’s intimidating, first of all, because it seems oxymoronic to say
“love your enemies.”
Plus, it seems an impossible task,
because sometimes it seems we’re surrounded by enemies
who really don’t care if we love them or not.
And all this is complicated by the fact that good-hearted people
really don’t want to think of other people as their enemies.
Some people don’t like to admit that we all have enemies,
because they think that by calling someone an “enemy”
we take a hostile attitude toward them–a hateful attitude.
But that’s not necessarily true.
After all, what is an enemy?
For a Christian, it is not someone we hate or oppose or want to injure,
but rather, it’s someone who hates or opposes or wants to injure us.
So we can love our enemy,
even while he remains our enemy because he does not love us.
Which leads us to the two reasons
why we need to recognize an enemy as an enemy.
The first is to protect ourselves and our loved ones from injury.
And the second is that to deal with other people effectively
you have to know who they are and what their attitude is toward you:
how can you be in a real relationship with someone
if you refuse to acknowledge who they really are?
So who are our enemies today?
We have to be careful: we can’t be paranoid or irrational;
and we can’t confuse someone who simply disagrees with us,
or looks or sounds different than us
with someone who hates us or wants to injure us
—someone who simply disagrees with us
is not our enemy.
Still, we have no problem identifying some of our enemies.
Some are flagrant in their attacks:
al-Qaeda and their terrorist friends are clearly our enemies.
Some are not so flagrant, but are still obvious:
the guy at work who wants your job and will do anything to get it;
the kid in school who mercilessly picks on you, or bullies you.
But there are some enemies we have a harder time recognizing,
because their efforts against us are more subtle, hidden from view
or cloaked in nice words and half-truths.
For example, those who would corrupt our children by teaching them
through the media, internet and even schools
bizarre and twisted notions of right and wrong, and good and evil,
replacing moral principles and logic, with political correctness and feelings.
Or those who degrade the very fabric of our culture
by undermining the foundations of the family and religious freedom,
through rules and rulings made by unelected bureaucrats and judges.
However….in all of these cases, Jesus commands us:
“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
This is, indeed, a daunting task.
At the last Supper Jesus told His apostles:
“Greater love has no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends”.
Jesus lived out this teaching the very next day on the Cross.
But He didn’t die just for His friends, He died also for His enemies
—as St. Paul tells us elsewhere in Scripture:
“while we were enemies we were reconciled to God
by the death of his Son.”
In His death Jesus invites all mankind, even his enemies,
to be not only His friends, but also His brothers and sisters
—as he says in today’s Gospel, “children of [his] heavenly Father.”
So His command to love our enemies isn’t built on
blind foolishness, or some sort of perverse divine masochism,
but on the fact that Christ loves all of us and died for us all
–friends and enemies—
and invites all of us to share in His sacrificial love.
So, he silently offered no resistance as they unjustly arrested and led Him
to rigged trial, presenting perjuring witnesses in the middle of the night;
and so He commands us:
“offer no resistance to one who is evil.”
They made Him carry His cross up that long road to the hill of Calvary,
and so he commands us:
“Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go for two miles.”
They stripped Him of His clothes
and he commands us:
“If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand over your cloak as well.”
They struck and scourged His entire body over and over again,
and he commands us:
“When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well.”
And as He looked down from the Cross He prayed:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,”
and He commands us:
“pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father.
These demands are hard to understand.
But we can understand them better if we put them in context.
What Christ is demanding in these radical sayings
is that all of our actions should always be made in the context of love,
even if it means we have to suffer, or sacrifice.
He’s saying that the our fundamental attitude and first response to an enemy
should always be patience and forbearance,
even while elsewhere he acknowledges that sometimes—in love—
we have to respond in other ways.
Sometimes love requires standing quietly while our enemies attack us,
as Jesus did when the Romans scourged and mocked Him.
But sometimes love requires walking away from our enemies,
as Jesus did when he walked through the crowd in Nazareth
that was trying to throw Him from the cliff.
Sometimes love requires us to correct our enemy
as Jesus did when He bravely told the Temple guard
who struck Him at His trial:
“if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
Sometimes it requires raising our voice in righteous anger
toward our enemies, as Jesus did when he said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! …
You serpents, you brood of vipers,
how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”
Sometimes, it may even require us to resort to violence
as Jesus did when He made a whip
and drove the moneychangers from the temple.
Now, some might wonder, how can we love our enemies when we fight them,
as Jesus did in shouting at the Pharisees and whipping the moneychangers.
But think of the loving mother who suddenly sees her little child playing in traffic.
She raises her voice to sweetly call him to come to her: “come here Johnny”
—but he continues playing.
So she raises her voice again, but now in anger:
“John Christopher, you come here this instant!”
—but he ignores her.
And so finally, she races into traffic and violently yanks him out to the curb
and even spanks his little bottom.
And he never ever does that again.
But none of this out of hate, but out of radical love.
And only what was necessary, and no more.
Just so, Christ only took a whip to the moneychangers,
when he could have struck them dead
as he once cursed the fruitless fig tree, and it withered and died.
In love, there was forbearance and mercy.
The same with us—even, for example, when we go war,
we must still love our enemy,
and so war is our last resort,
and we cease fire when he is defeated, and we bind his wounds.
To most of us, it seems impossible to love our enemies:
how do you love someone attacking your country,
or mocking your marriage, or corrupting your children.
But as Jesus tells his apostles in another passage:
“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Think now: by our baptism we have been born again into a new life
which is a participation in the very life of Jesus himself.
We have become not only His friends or even family,
but members of His Body.
And in the Eucharist we are present once again at the sacrifice of the Cross
as he calls us to take our sacrifices made in love
–the times we’ve turned the other cheek,
or even risked our safety or comfort
to correct an enemy in love
–and to offer these to be united with his own sacrifice
so that they and we can be transformed
by the love of His Cross,
and we can receive the power to live as Christ lives,
even to “be perfect,
just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Jesus’ call to “love our enemies” is at one and the same time stunningly sublime,
and devastatingly difficult.
But if the Cross is ponderous, so also is it wondrous
as the act of perfect love that leads us to the Resurrection and eternal life.
As we now begin to enter into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist
let us ask Jesus to unite us to Himself,
our sacrifices to His sacrifice, our love to His love,
that by His grace we may have
the wisdom to recognize our enemies, and the strength to love them.