Each time I hear this Gospel passage about ‘loving your enemies’ being read, I say to myself, “Oh gosh, what a demand from Jesus! It is already hard to love people who are not my enemies but now Jesus demands this.” Sometimes just to make me feel less guilty I will soothe myself by thinking that Jesus meant it figuratively. Well, did He?
After hearing Jesus telling His disciples that they are blessed because they are poor, hungry, weeping and persecuted, Jesus now goes further to proclaim a principle that is challenging, revolutionary, and even upsetting: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.” If there is a movie to be made based on this, the title can be ‘Love, do good, bless, and pray’.
We all have to admit that though we may have tried numerous times, it is a command that many of us equally fail miserably. Some of us will probably never succeed to love those who have hurt us or ruined our lives. In such situations, are we not worthy of God’s kingdom? The context of our Gospel today must be understood or else we end up applying it in the wrong way and brushing this command of Jesus aside.
What is clear from this teaching is that Jesus tells His disciples to reject violence of any form. A disciple of Jesus does not respond to evil with evil, wrong with wrong, or even hate with hate. Jesus uses three examples that are radical: “To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too; to the man who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you.” Most of us are more likely to say, “Are you serious, Jesus?”
Jesus clearly did not mean this literally. What He teaches is that we must confront evil but not in the way the world would expect of us. That is why He goes on to add the golden rule: “Treat others as you would like them to treat you.” If I were in a similar situation, how would I expect others to treat me? The clarion call of Jesus is not that we tolerate violence and oppression but find ways to break the vicious cycle of violence and injustice. To turn the other cheek is certainly a tall order in the world that we live in.
So then, how do we live this command? Let us be mindful that Jesus sets before us the ideal that we are called to work and walk towards. In other words, it’s a lifelong process of learning to love our enemies little by little every day and the realisation that we may never come to love our enemies fully. However, our failure to keep the command of Jesus must also remind us to not judge others if they fail to live up to the other commands of Jesus.
Knowing well that we are likely to be harsh with those who struggle to live the values of the kingdom in a secularised world, Jesus reminds us – Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves. To love your enemies also means to love the person who fails and falls short of following Jesus faithfully while labelling ourselves as more righteous.
Let’s bear in mind that the command to love your enemy is in no way asking us to condone evil, violence, injustice or to sit back and allow ourselves to be bullied. Clearly, the mark of a disciple is kindness and compassion. Loving one’s enemy may not come easily for many of us but we can always start somewhere by praying for our enemies. Praying is an act of mercy. Praying is loving like our Heavenly Father. Praying changes our hearts. Loving our enemies means seeing the people around us as human beings in need of the Father’s love.
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (20 Feb 2022)