In the Gospel of Matthew (5:38-48), Jesus speaks to us regarding our disposition. Now, perhaps more than at any other time, the obvious question might be: Should we take him seriously?
At Mass, usually we give the Gospel our undivided attention, but only for a short time, and provided that the homily is half-way decent. After that, life’s routine, pressing issues, unresolved situations, fatigue, boredom, reoccurring dreams, a lot of things push even the best, more challenging statements of the Gospel in the hazy background of the mind.
However, this time it must be different if nothing else because, to our western ears, what Jesus proposes sounds more than preposterous; it sounds humanly impossible; actually, in certain cultures simply unthinkable. As his loyal disciples, we ought to take him always very, very seriously for he is the only one with words of eternal life, (cf. John 6:68). We can start by ascertaining the significance of existential words such as “love” and “hate.”
And this is not easy for us westerners. In telling us: “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy” (Matthew 5:43) Jesus is only 50% correct. “You shall love your neighbor”refers to Leviticus 19: 17-18; but “and hate your enemy” is nowhere to be found in the Old Testament… What?!
Once we get over this shock, we might be ready to accept that Jesus is here forcefully urging us to become full-fledged members of his divine Family. Perhaps, Jesus is jolting us so that we can soar above our western rugged individualism to feel comfortable and secure into the Family in which we are all his brothers and sisters, all sons, and daughters of the Heavenly Father.
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26
In a way, Jesus is speaking to us as the Jew that he is and will forever be. Instead of the terms “love” and “hate,” we should use the terms “show attachment to your neighbor” and “show detachment from your enemies, i.e., from those who might keep you from belonging to my Family.”
In the Old Testament the enemies were all those outside one’s clan. In their family, among their kin, the Jews found their self-identity, shelter, care, protection, sustenance, and everything else needed to make their life complete and enjoyable. Apart from the clan, one was a nobody. And, naturally, one would have been destroyed in the enemy’s clan…
So, let me try to translate Jesus’ message into western terms:
“But now, I, your Lord and Savior, your brother, want you to know viscerally, wholeheartedly the boundaries of the Father’s Family, the Church, of which you are a member through Baptism and Holy Communion thanks to my blood shed on the cross.
I know that what I propose here sounds from preposterous to impossible. Yet, I promise you, the heart of our Father is so big that he wants all people, all over the world and across the millennia to be in his Family.
The Father’s Family has no boundaries!
For this to happen, you need to trust that the transformation which the Holy Spirit is about to operate in you is so open- ended, so boundless that you will strive for the impossible: to be as perfect, as merciful, as loving, as holy as the Father is.
A long time ago, to prevent excessive retaliation in dealing with one’s enemies, my Father proposed the rule of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. (cf. Exodus 21: 24). But on Calvary, 2000 years ago, the Father’s new Family was born when a Roman soldier opened my heart with a lance.
It’s a very unusual Family as only Father could have conceived it.
My death on that cross should be telling you that, in this unique Family, parity in retaliation must be replaced by wholehearted forgiveness; impositions accepted willingly; insults endured patiently; even unreasonable requests granted gladly.”
Now, to help us accept Jesus’ outlandish proposal, it might be helpful to recall how we are meant to be once the divine Family will be totally perfected…pure love.
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that, when it is revealed, we shall be like him…1 John 3:2
Given the anguish and serious concern which torment our minds and hearts in these days, on account of the alarming condition of the world, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we resolve to act as true children of our Heavenly Father should. We shall display goodwill in replacing indifference and hatred with a welcoming attitude which turns enemies into friends, feared strangers into brothers and sisters.
It is, undoubtedly, the tallest order Jesus could give us, but it is the only one that fills the heart of the Father with divine joy.