“It is easy enough to be friendly to one's friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.” - Mohandas K. Gandhi
Gospel text (Mt 5,43-48):
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . .” These instructions from Jesus are familiar to us as Christians. They are so familiar, in fact, that we probably either believe we follow them well-enough and don’t pay much attention to them or we place them into our personal “not to be taken literally” category. After all, Jesus could not have meant that we should love and pray for Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Adolph Hitler, or Osama bin Laden. Could he? Really?
Today’s Gospel is probably one of the toughest to live out. When I was younger, I understood Jesus’ command to love my enemies as a strange one, but I went along with it because it didn’t seem that hard. Although I knew people that I didn’t particularly like, I was pretty generous in wishing everyone well, being kind, etc. As I’ve gotten older, however, I have found this Gospel harder to live by. With age has come experience and perspective, much of which is good but much of which is also bad. When another has offended me or a loved one, or even when I reflect on the evil that some people do to others whom I might not know, I find that it is increasingly difficult to love that person because of what they have done.
And yet, love is not something given to someone because of anything they have done or not done but because of who s/he is: a child of God. Jesus tells us that God loves all his children, the good and the bad, by giving them both the rain and the sunshine, and, as St. Paul says in today’s first reading (2 Cor 8:1-9), Jesus showed us this love by becoming poor for us so that we could become rich. His message shows us that love for all is essential to being God’s children and that he does not expect any less from us than to show that love to others.
Of course, this is challenging because it seems to go against our natural desire. This is the genius of Jesus’ call, though: we are called to move beyond ourselves to become like him. I don’t wish here to offer recommendations on how to implement this practically: our different experiences, dispositions, and outlooks are so varied that we probably already know areas in our life that we need to work on in order to be more loving, and each of us probably knows best the people and counsel that can help us achieve this goal. In any case, the theme among them is the call to be children of our Heavenly Father through loving all, even our enemies, just as he did. Let’s pray today that the Lord may help us identify who or what in our lives are our enemies so that we may be more demonstrative in our love toward them.