Our Gospel passage from Matthew (5:38-48) exposes, mercilessly, how truly wrong are those who are not passionate about their life in Christ. It shows also how much those who are not in love with the Lord are missing out on life. Listen again to the punch line of our Gospel text.
“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
This absurd, preposterous, bordering-on-irrational order, actually, holds the secret for living life to the fullest here on earth and for assuring eternal life in heaven.
Now, of course, I am addressing only those who dare to take this phrase at face value, and are willing to try to live by its impossible demand. For starters, just a brief appraisal of our spotty past performance should convince us that this challenge calls us to live with a constant sense of inadequacy.
We ought to live with the sobering fact that, humanly speaking, we will be falling short of that impossible goal. At the same time, though, we will know that the love of the Lord will fill up what is lacking in our love for him. We have to accept the unsettling awareness that we will never reach perfection: that this order will not be fully executed no matter how hard we are determined to try while on this earth. On the other hand, though, those who truly love Jesus and dare to take on this challenge will never say something as inane as the usual, common claim: “I do not steal, I do not murder anybody, I mind my own business, I am OK.”
Upon hearing statements so ridiculous and immature, we realize that some people are not only light years away from perfection; they are actually displaying deliberate forfeiture of responsible social accountability.
So, my friends in Christ, as things are, on any given day, how many reasons do we find to justify our apprehension, our fear, our wondering, even our cynicism about the way life events are unfolding in this world? The imposing challenge with which Jesus presents us in our Gospel passage for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time leaves no doubt in our mind that, only those who take it on, can make a difference to lower the individual and collective level of apprehension and fear, cease the wondering and turn cynicism into hope.
From those who choose disengagement, aloofness and indifference we can only expect a continuation of the status quo, or, worse yet, a decline of the situation. As we take a closer look at this daunting challenge, we realize that only one person was able to be fully successful and reach perfection.
That person, of course, is Jesus Christ, our Lord, our God in human flesh.
No matter how inspired and love-driven we might be, we learn from past experience that every single part of this sublime challenge is practically impossible, almost irrational for mere human beings.
So, we have to be reminded that, without Jesus Christ, we can do absolutely nothing; that, on our own, we cannot even attempt to implement any part of this page of the gospel. (cf. John 15:5) Yet, we are also reminded that with God all things are possible. (cf. Mt. 19:26)
We undertake the difficult journey towards loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us because we are driven by our imperfect yet sincere love for the Lord, and our willingness to make this world a better place in which to live and prosper. We have enemies whom we know and clearly identify, as well as enemies lurking in the dark keeping us ill at ease and frightened. Furthermore, we have those who persecute us by trampling upon our rights or by doing us violence and we also have impending persecutors. Thus, this order to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors, an order repeated to us by Jesus Christ today, might find us hesitant and undecided.
As we ponder why we have to accept this challenge, we might notice that righteous anger is churning inside us. It might be due to the fact that we wonder why the Lord allows this to happen also in our country, where freedom has always been valued, cherished and protected, and all are entitled to pursuit happiness.
The first reason why we shall begin to love our enemies and pray for all our persecutors is because Jesus Christ suffered his cruel passion, endured the cross and rose from the dead to save them too.
The second reason is because our God wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:4).
Therefore, given our heavenly Father’s sense of humor, in heaven, where love will have conquered everything, those who are our enemies and persecutors here on earth, might wind up sitting close to us for all eternity.
The third reason is because only those who, aided by the Holy Spirit, break the vicious circle of hatred, revenge, injustice and violence, at a very high personal cost, can bring about those changes for which we have all been waiting for the longest time.
The fourth and final reason is mentioned by Jesus Christ in this very same page of the Gospel. We are expected to subdue our natural instincts for revenge, for getting even and meting out payback after payback because we are all children of our heavenly Father.
Jesus reminds us that we would have nothing to be proud of if, after years, decades, a lifetime (!) of being members of the Catholic Church, anointed by the Holy Spirit, sanctified by the Sacraments and inspired by God’s Word, we would be indistinguishable from pagans and tax collectors.
Now, we know that our enemies will continue to harass, antagonize and fight us. We know that our persecutors will not desist from making our life painfully difficult.
Aware of this reality, even with our best intentions, we still wonder if we can live out this very challenging page of the Gospel. Thus, we profess, once again, our imperfect yet sincere love for the Lord and ask him to make up for what we lack in our human frailty with the awesome power of his Holy Spirit.