Matthew 5:38-48, Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Did you flinch when you just heard the Lord say, “Love your enemies”? My theory is that, if you didn’t, it’s probably because you didn’t hear what he’s trying to tell us today. Or, you didn’t really think of your enemies.
“Who is my enemy?” you might ask.
They need not be people who have wronged you or, for reasons you don’t quite understand, continue to harm you. They can be very well be those who–deliberately or not–somehow end up blocking your efforts, including the good that you try to do.
Or they could just be people whom you disagree with, who do things differently or resort to devices contrary to your preferences or your values. These are the people who–whether you like it or not–constitute your enemies. Now, imagine them standing before you and try not to flinch as the Lord invites you to love them.
It’s a big ask. If you take it seriously, this particular commandment that the Lord came up with is a tough one. In fact, it’s so tough that one is tempted to feel helpless and simply file it away as a commandment designed exclusively for “holier people” and not for mere mortals like ourselves. Those of us who don’t fit that category can benefit from focusing our efforts in learning to love our friends and family, as well as harmless strangers, which, to be honest, is hard enough as it is!
But that is not what the Lord asks us today, of course. He raises the bar and invites us to do more–in fact, “to be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect.” But why? Why would the Lord say that at all if he wasn’t convinced it was possible? He must believe we can do it even if he knows it’s hard. And he must believe it is worth it, too. The important question then is not “Why?” but “How?”
Which brings us back to our first question: “Who?”
“Who is my enemy?” reminds me of a similar but opposite question a man asked Jesus in a different situation: “Who is my neighbor?” It was, if you ask me, a smart alecky question, at best asked rhetorically or tongue in cheek, but it was what prompted the telling of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. And the Lord punctuated the parable by inviting his listeners to do the same–to follow the example of the good Samartian and be a good neighbor. In other words, in telling the parable, the Lord answered not the original question–“Who is the neighbor I should help?”–but a radically revised one: “Who is the neighbor I should be?”
We might opt to do the same reversal with our question today: “Who is my enemy?” Instead of focusing on that question, we might ask ourselves, “Who is the enemy I should not be?”
Thankfully, the Lord already provides us some answers to this question. Don’t be like the tax collectors who love only those who love them, or the Gentiles who greet only their brothers and sisters. Opt instead to imitate the Father who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
In other words, don’t be exclusive. To love our enemies means to let our sun and rain benefit everyone–even those who may not be on our list of friends. It means not deliberately excluding anyone whenever we do good. I don’t know about you, but as far as loving my enemies is concerned, that sounds like a pretty accessible place for me to start.