BE MERCIFUL AS YOUR FATHER IS MERCIFUL
1Sam 26:2,7-9,12-13,22-23; 1Cor 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38
The gospel of today continues the great Sermon of Jesus on Plain from where we left off last Sunday. There, he proclaimed the attitudes that we are to have if we want to be blessed by God. Today, Jesus gives us the step-by-step instructions to build the attitudes that will complete our transformation into true and faithful disciples of God. These building instructions are clear, concise, and unambiguous.
- First, we are to love as God loves – everyone – No exceptions, No conditions. We are to love enemies—help them and pray for them.
- Second, when we are mistreated we should offer nothing but kindness, even when it might require sacrifice on our part (i.e. “from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic”).
- Third, give without expectation of repayment.
- Fourth, stop judging and condemning. The disciple who loves and offers kindness does not behave this way.
- And finally, be sure to forgive – this is how we will obtain forgiveness.
- WHO ARE OUR ENEMIES?
When Jesus says: “love your enemies”, he is not saying that we should have enemies and then, in some mysterious manner, love them at the same time. Neither does he mean we should not have enemies at all. Taking into consideration that Jesus is speaking about the disciples and their persecutors, we see that “enemies” here means those who hate the disciples, not those whom the disciples hate. Disciples are to hate no one. If by enemies we mean those we hate, then Christians should have no enemies also. But if by enemies we mean those who hate us, then we cannot help having enemies. We cannot control how others treat us, we can only control how we treat them.
The disciples lived in a society that hated them and treated them with hostility. What Jesus is asking them is that they should not return hatred for hatred or hostility for hostility. In our ordinary and daily life, we encounter people who do not like us, people who hate us downrightly. We cannot control their hateful feelings towards us! But as Christians, we own our feelings and attitudes towards others, and so we can decide how to react or treat them. We can decide to hate them back, or we can decide otherwise. Jesus is asking us to do the second. Do not hate them! Others can take you for an enemy and treat you as one. But, following Christ requires that we to follow in his footsteps. This does not come easy; but Jesus is asking us to do exactly that which is “not easy”.
For instance, in the first reading we hear how David refused to be swayed by the politically correct wisdom of the day and kill his enemy Saul, but recognized Saul as one loved by God and so behaved with the correct Attitude. Saul loved David like a Son, but he began to be jealous of David’s popularity; for he killed Goliath and received more praises than the King. Increasingly, Saul began to see David like an enemy. He began to pursue David to kill him in order to remove this threat. It would be expected, given the opportunity, that David would in turn take Saul’s life in order to “get even.” But when Saul and his men fall asleep and David had a good chance of hitting Saul, he did not “take advantage” of him. David respected Saul as anointed by God. “Today, though the LORD delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm the LORD’s anointed”. David teaches us a great lesson on how Christ recommends that his disciples should treat their so-called “enemies”. They are to LOVE THEM!
- LOVE YOUR ENEMIES (Lk 6:27)
It has been observed that there are certain Christian individuals, and even groups, today who do not say the “Lord’s Prayer” (The Our Father), because they do not want to say “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” They do not believe in loving an enemy by forgiving him/her. They rather believe that any person who offends us should be punished. It will teach them a lesson never to offend us again Justice even demands that people should be made to pay for their misdeeds.
That kind of thinking has a basis in the bible, precisely in Exodus 21:23-25: “…life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stroke for stroke.” That is the Old Testament. Jesus goes beyond that kind of thinking in the New Testament. He said: “You have heard that it was said: Eye for eye and took for tooth. But I say to you: offer no resistance to the wicked. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well…” (Matt 5:38-39).
Jesus’ teaching makes a lot of sense. Ever since the foundation of the world, two wrongs have never been known to make a right. One wrong and another wrong have always made two wrongs. It is most unlikely that anything will change that at any time in the future. The only force that is capable of eliminating one wrong is one right. For this reason, Jesus say: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:27-28). The great Indian pacifist, Mahatma Gandhi, was not a Christian. But he too said, “Love will conquer hate.” He is also credited with the saying: “An eye for an eye will soon render the whole world blind.”
There is no doubt that every war that has ever been fought on this earth, every fight that has ever taken place between two parties, even in the home, has been because people choose to return evil for evil. On the other hand, every peace that has ever been made has been the result of people agreeing not to return evil for evil, but rather to bury the hatchet, as it common said.
- REFUSE TO RETALIATE (Lk 6:29)
“If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic” (6:29) “Turning the other cheek” has made its way into the English language as an expression meaning to go out of your way to avoid a nasty confrontation. Even though provoked, instead of lashing out, you turn the other cheek. Let us not forget the context is enemies, “those who insult us and seek to embarrass us”.
The natural human reaction in the face of provocation is to hit back. Instead, Jesus is telling us to avoid hitting back. How can we love when we hit back with something that will wound our opponent? Husbands and wives sometimes get into arguments; tensions that may have been simmering for years boil over once again. And with the boiling comes anger, and with anger a willingness not just to defend, but to strike back. To get an advantage. To have the last word. To wound!
In every area of our relationships, Jesus tells us: Don’t retaliate. Don’t hit back. Don’t move from a position of prayerful love for your enemy to a drop-down, drag-out fight. Love does not retaliate. Love seeks the enemy’s good (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
The second command is harder yet to understand. “If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic” (6:29b). When your enemy takes your cloak, remember that you love him. You are praying for him. You are blessing him and seeking his good. Don’t get grabby and nasty and accusing. You love him, remember? Let him have your tunic also. Jesus is seeking to train disciples to think and act and love like he does. Turning the other cheek is indeed what he did as the soldiers spat on him and flogged him, and jammed a thorny crown into his scalp and mocked him as king. Was he tempted to retaliate. Oh, yes, humanly speaking! But he didn’t. Why? He loved them. That is the radical lesson of “Turning the other cheek”.
- DO NOT JUDGE AND YOU WILL NOT BE JUDGED (Lk 6:37-38)
It is amazing that even people who have never read the Bible seem to know this verse: Lk 6:37, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” One hears this text quoted on some occasion when someone asserts that something is “right” or “wrong”. They mean you should not make judgments about another person’s behaviour. We should let everyone do “his/her own thing”. Such an approach to this text is unrealistic. In an ordinary life setting, we are constantly and necessarily making judgments about behaviours and ideas.
What Jesus is condemning is not making judgments. He is condemning a judgmental or condemning spirit. We are free to conclude that some behaviour and ideas are wrong but we should not conclude that people who own such ideas are worthless. We must make judgments BUT:
- We should not draw conclusions before we have the facts.
- We should not judge the motives of another person. (You are not inside that person)
- We should never conclude that someone is beyond hope.
Outside this, we should entrust the situation to God, the Judge of all the earth who always does what is right. Only God knows the motives of a heart. Only God has all the information about why something happens and what the circumstances are. He, alone, should be the judge.
- FORGIVE AND YOU WILL BE FORGIVEN
The second command from the Lord (in Lk 6:37b) is even more difficult: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” To fully understand forgiveness, we need to clear up some misconceptions:
- Forgiveness is hard. When the hurt is deep it is difficult to let it go.
- Forgiveness takes time. It is a decision one needs to make again and again.
- Forgiveness does not mean we let someone hurt us in the same way over and over again.
- Forgiveness does not mean we pretend that no wrong happened. Forgiveness does not mean that we ignore the fact that a wrong has been done. It means we do not let that wrong remain a barrier in our relationship.
- Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. Things that have been forgiven do not get forgotten over time. Human beings have a memory. Without it, one is unable to learn something.
- Forgiveness is a choice. It is an act of the will. It is the choice to tear up the record of wrongs we have been keeping.
In Ephesians 4:32 and in Colossians 3:13 St. Paul writes, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Paul appeals to the example of Christ. In other words, since we have been forgiven by God for our persistent rebellion, we should be willing to forgive others.
- TAKING IT LITERALLY—WHAT THE WORDS OF JESUS DON’T MEAN The word of Jesus, as found in today’s gospel have been interpreted and twisted in various ways by various interest groups. Here, it would be good that we consider what his words don’t mean. Jesus does not mean that we, as a society, should let criminals run free to do violence on any citizen. It does not mean we should not call the police when robbed. It does not mean that we should stand idly by when someone is assaulted. Jesus’ words are not about crime or nonviolence in war. They are about loving enemies in a radical way. If we seek to make a new law that overrides the civil law against violent crime, then we miss the point. The same goes for people taking your clothes off. If you were to take this verse literally, nakedness would be the result. That is not what Jesus intended here. Again, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back” (6:31). Does Jesus mean that we are to give to every beggar or con man we meet? Of course, not! He expects us to be good stewards of our money. The point is how we treat our enemies. It is about the radical way in which we love them.
- BE MERCIFUL AS YOUR FATHER IS MERCIFUL
Humanly speaking, the instructions that Jesus gives in today’s gospel sound near-impossible (We have said this before). But at a closer look, we realize that perhaps the most important reason for letting ourselves be humiliated by returning good for evil is that it is God’s way of doing things. God, our Father, is always merciful. That is why Jesus says that those who return good for evil “will be called sons (and daughters) of the Most High for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Lk 6:35). Therefore, with the spirit of Jesus working through us, He can teach us to love our enemies – even at their ugliest. For instance, the father in the story of the Prodigal Son kept looking out for his wayward son, even when he had bolted away. He forgave him and received him back with jubilation, when he returned (Lk 15:11-32). On the cross, this is how Jesus treated his enemies. He prayed for his executioners while dying: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) He healed the ear of one of the people who came to arrest him, when Peter chopped it off with his sword on that fatal night (Lk 22:50-51).
What more can a child wish for than to be like his/her father (or mother)? If indeed we are God’s children, what more can we wish for than to resemble God our Father, and be merciful as he is merciful? (Lk6:36) We, too, can do as God asks of us. We can forgive someone even if he/she does not want to be forgiven. We can work hard even if no one notices. We can appreciate others. Instead of yelling at our children when they do something wrong, we can tell them that we, too, made (and make) many mistakes and that we love them regardless of their mistakes. These, and many other ideas, are good things and usually unexpected. After all, if we do only what is expected, how can we or anybody else, for that matter, know that there is a God in heaven, who calls us to a higher standard? By imitating our merciful God, we can be sure that “gifts will be given to (us) you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into (our) your lap” (Lk 6:37).
Therefore, let us pray to our merciful Father, that he may remold us to be closer to his image and likeness.