7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 24, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today’s Gospel reading is really one of the most beautiful texts in Scripture:
everything from the radically profound concept to
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”,
to the wonderful promise:
“Give, and it shall be given to you.
Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over,
will they pour into the fold of your garment.”
But as wonderful as these sayings are,
they are also very hard sayings to apply and live out:
“When someone slaps you on one cheek, turn and give him the other;”
“Do not judge, …Do not condemn, ….Pardon, and you shall be pardoned.”
If we’re honest with ourselves,
the whole idea of loving our enemy is very intimidating.
Why must we love our enemy?
In today’s 1st reading from Samuel,
we’re reminded of the story of Saul searching out David, to kill him.
And in this particular passage we see
where God has presented David with the perfect opportunity
to end his troubles as he comes across his enemy Saul
when Saul is asleep and completely vulnerable.
But David refuses to kill King Saul:
“Do not harm him,” he says,
“for who can lay hands on the Lord’s anointed.”
But, as we read elsewhere,
while David will not do anything to harm God’s anointed,
he does not hesitate to kill his other enemies
–in fact as he’s dying he tells his son Solomon to continue killing his enemies.
Clearly, King David has not yet understood the concept of loving his enemies,
or turning the other cheek.
It takes another son of David, the one who is the anointed one
–the Messiah or Christ–to introduce this teaching and to give it meaning.
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.”
Here, Christ calls us to love our friends even to this radical extent, to die for them.
But what about our enemies?
The thing is, that at the Last Supper,
Jesus is speaking in the context of His knowledge
of the death that awaits Him the next day.
A death He endures, not just for His friends, but even for His enemies.
It’s true that only those who are His friends
can benefit from His death and resurrection,
but the thing is that in His death He invites all mankind
–His friends and His enemies–
to be not only His friends, but also His brothers and sisters,
sons and daughters of His Heavenly father.
He dies so that even His enemies can share in His very own life
–to truly become, through Him, “God’s anointed”.
So in today’s Gospel we hear Jesus tell us that if we love our enemies:
“You will rightly be called sons of the Most High,
since he himself is good to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
The concept of loving our enemies
is not built on some sort of sick divine masochism,
but on the fact that these are the ones whom Christ
invites or calls to be his family,
to become “anointed ones of God” with Him.
Christ died for us all–friends and enemies—
and invites us to share in His sacrificial death–His greatest act of love for us.
And so just as He allowed His enemies to not only crucify Him but also
to curse Him, and to strip Him and take all of His clothes
–even to slap His cheek,
He tells us in turn to:
“bless those who curse you…
when someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well…
When someone slaps you on one cheek, turn and give him the other.”
And even though He is falsely judged and condemned, He said on the Cross:
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
So He tells us today: “Pardon, and you shall be pardoned.”
Jesus goes on and on with examples of loving our enemy,
because He wants this love to permeate every aspect of our lives.
This, as I said can be intimidating.
But we have to remember 2 very important things.
First of all, the examples Christ gives here are just that: examples.
Sometimes when our enemy strikes us
we should not simply silently let him strike us again.
For example, when Christ is being tried before the Sanhedrin, Scripture tells us:
“one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand….
Jesus answered him,
“If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong;
but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
Think about this: Jesus doesn’t just silently turn the other cheek to be slapped
–He asks, “why are you hitting me?”
He verbally and with reason pushes back
—because in His divine wisdom
and in love for the guard, the people around and for us,
He sees it as necessary that we hear Him correct the guard.
But also in love, He restrains Himself:
He could have hit the guard back, but He doesn’t.
In fact, as He told Peter just minutes before this,
He could have called down “more than twelve legions of angels”
to strike down the whole place.
What Christ is demanding in these examples
is that all of our actions should be made in the context of love
–even when dealing with our enemies.
The first response in love is patience and humility,
but sometimes, IN LOVE, for either the person, or the whole community,
we have to respond in another way.
Maybe we have to turn the other cheek, or walk away, or remain silent,
or maybe we have to speak up and correct, or even chastise,
or fight or even punish.
But whatever we do, it must not be done with hatred, bitterness or malice,
but in love, even if it’s painful to us personally.
There’s also a second more important factor to consider
when we think of the hardness of these sayings.
In Chapter 19 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives another set of hard sayings.
When the apostles show their frustration with the difficulties He’s presenting,
saying, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus tells them:
“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
For man, loving our enemies is impossible.
For some of us, turning the other cheek, or pardoning or not passing judgment,
may seem impossible.
But for Christ, our Lord and God, nothing is impossible.
–His incarnation, His death and resurrection show us this very clearly.
But think now: by our baptism we have been born again into a new life
which is a participation in the very life of Christ Himself.
We have become not only friends, but family, and not only family,
but members of Christ’s Body.
And in the Eucharist we are present once again
at the death and resurrection of our Lord,
His sacrificial laying down of His life for us and for all.
And in the Eucharist He calls us to take our sacrifices made in love
–the times we’ve turned the other cheek, given our coat or been patient,
or even painfully corrected someone in love—
and offer these to be united with His own sacrifice
so that they and we can be transformed by the love of the Cross,
and enter more fully into the life of the risen Lord.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit working in this sacrament of the Eucharist,
and in all the sacraments, we receive the power to live the life of Christ,
to love our enemies, and do good to those who hate us.
Because it’s not merely our love at work, but the love of Christ Himself.
So that even if these things are impossible for us,
nothing is impossible for us when we live in Jesus Christ.
As St. Paul says in today’s 2nd reading:
“Earthly men are like the man of earth,
heavenly men are like the man of heaven“—Jesus.
Christ’s call to “love our enemies” is at one and the same time
sublimely beautiful, and devastatingly hard.
But if the Cross is hard, so also is it beautiful
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 Christ to unite our sacrifices to His own,
that we may have the strength to see everyone we meet as called to be
“God’s anointed” and so
–to turn the other cheek, to pardon and not condemn
–to lay down our lives as Christ lays down His life,
for those who are His friends
and those who are now His enemies
but whom He calls to be His friends.
And let us praise Him,
knowing that in that in this giving of ourselves in the life of Christ’s love,
He in turn gives us all good things, in
“Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over.”