”Love” thy Enemy – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 6:27-38, Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the time of Jesus, the slap most commonly done was a backhanded slap. A backhanded slap was what masters gave slaves, or commanders gave soldiers, or centurions gave Jews. A backhanded slap, therefore, was not only a punishment, but also a reminder of status: “I am master, you’re only a slave.” “I am commander, you are but a centurion.” “I am Roman, you’re just a Jew.” So, when the Lord told his listeners to “turn the other cheek,” he didn’t mean for them to willingly turn themselves into a doormat to be abused even more, no. On the contrary, to turn their other cheek meant to dare their slappers to use the face of their hands and slap them as an equal. “’Wag n’yo po akongsampalin na parang alila. Subukan n’yo po akong sampalinbilang kapantay ninyo.” Turning the other cheek would rudely awaken your aggressor to the realtiy that you were both of equal rights and dignity and footing in the eyes of God. Interesting, isn’t it?

According to Jewish law, a creditor had the right to confiscate a debtor’s cloak as collateral until the debtor paid his utang. A cloak was the outermost garment Jews wore. But that same law required that in the evening, the creditor must return the cloak to the debtor—so that the poor man would have something to keep himself warm through the night. The next morning, however, the creditor could again confiscate the cloak—but with one condition: he must never enter his debtor’s house and forcibly take the cloak from him. No, he must stand at the door and wait to be offered the collateral cloak. But Jesus said in the Gospel, “From a person who takes your cloak—” notice, “takes,” not “waits at the door,” no: “takes,” “give him your tunic, as well,” Jesus said. Now the tunic was the last piece of clothing Jews had on their bodies. If you surrendered your tunic, you’d be naked. Well, according to rules of modesty back in the day, a Jew by all means must protect his eyes from any form of nakedness, because nakedness brought disgrace not only to the one who stripped, but even more so, to the person who saw the naked. In fact, there were rabbinic writings that maintained that Jews were not even supposed to look at their own private parts when naked! So, if an abusive creditor forcibly takes your cloak, give him your tunic as well, and your nakedness will disgrace him! Interesting, isn’t it?

What do we see here? We see that Jesus doesn’t demand that we become doormats to abusive, violent people. He never meant for us to just swallow insult and indignity, and then say, “Oh, this is exactly what the Lord suffered through, so I must do the same.” No, the Lord taught and did nothing of the sort—although at first blush, our Gospel today looks, sounds, and feels like abasement. Christianity has never been about self-degredation. So, what does Jesus teach? He teaches that, number one, we must confront oppression, abuse, indignity, but try our best to not sin as we do so. Because if we sin when doing that, then we’re no different form our aggressors. Number two, Jesus taught that the way we confront oppression, abuse, indignity must also somehow “teach” our aggressors a lesson—to awaken them to their abusiveness, their sinning, their immorality and corruption. That way, to teach the enemy is to show “love” for the enemy.

These are wise words for us today. Jesus asks that we take dignified responsibility over ourselves whenwe’re  agrabyado, because the Lord knows how anger often short-circuits our rationality and our prudence. Jesus wants us to still make full use of our brains and good use of our will power in the face of adversity. Expose the injustice mindfully, firmly, and without sinning. That way, we reinstate our dignity, and at the same time, we rehabilitate the aggressor—if by a long stretch—and therefore, “love” the enemy.

I know. It’s very difficult. It even seems insurmountable at times, especially for those with anger management issues, or those who have been truly, deeply, and darkly hurt by their agressors. To be fair, anger in and of itself is not “bad.” Anger is a feeling. As a feeling, it’s neither right nor wrong. What we do with the feeling, now that ushers us into the moral compass of right and wrong. There is anger that is fair and just. But there’s also anger that’s chronic, disproportionate, blinding, and consuming. So, allow me to say just one last thing about the second kind of anger, the anger that consumes.

I’ve seen it in myself, in my family, and in other people, that stoking the fire of anger burns us more than our enemies. When anger consumes us, we actually become the enemy. And have you ever noticed that peope who are constantly angry are also quite ugly? We say in Tagalog, “Huwag kang masungit kung ayaw mong pumangit.” It sounds funny but it’s true: consuming anger “uglifies” us because what we constantly feel, we become. What we constantly feel, we become. So, Jesus asks that we never allow ourselves to be triggered by our aggressors so much that it ignites anger that burns down every trace of dignity and honor and decency and beauty that God has created in us. We must let our anger burn off. But we must never let it burn us down.

We can never do this alone, however. So, we constantly ask God for this as grace. Amen.

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