7th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
I believe that the Sermon on the Mount is a survey of all that we would be capable of if we really knew how beloved we were by God. But that is the rub. If we doubt anything primarily, it is our own belovedness, so we are surprised or hold deeply suspicious the challenges Jesus gives us in the Sermon.
For example, last week we were told that to harbor anger against someone is roughly equivalent to murder! And this week, Jesus charges headlong from the difficult to the near impossible. In both the law against retaliation, which is really the law against violence, and the command to love our enemies, Jesus demands the seemingly impossible.
“But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” In thirty years of talking about non-violence, I have heard all the arguments against it. It makes one too weak and vulnerable. It is irrational, impractical and dangerous. To which I say, non-violence has been used sparingly and often with great success. From Martin Luther King’s America, to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe to Cardinal Sin’s Philippines and Gandhi’s India, people have witnessed the power of non-violence. Or you can merely contrast it with the ugly record of violence and ask what has that gained us other than the scourge of endless war, distorted relationships, a darker culture and broken families.
Violence and non-violence aim for different goals. Violence seeks the submission of body and will. Do what is demanded or face consequences to your freedom of survival. Non-violence seeks the conversion of minds and hearts. No one has ever changed their heart at the barrel of a gun or at the end of a fist. Instead, the wisdom of non-violence is that nothing can be forcibly taken if it is freely given. That is why no resistance is offered to the evil one. If you want to strike one cheek, I will turn the other as well; if you try to take my cloak, I will offer my tunic; if you force to carry something for one mile, I will bear the burden of the second mile freely. Now the relationship has changed. Force is replaced by freedom and with freedom comes dialogue and hope.
Remember, we did not need the grace of the crucifixion and the resurrection so that we could know that after you hit, we should hit back. We have proven we can figure that at on our own. But the way of Christ, the way of non-violence, opens new horizons of peace that the shadow violence blots out.
So let’s say that we have managed to summon the strength not to be angry and not to retaliate. Jesus asks us for even more. Jesus calls us to what almost all scholars say is the greatest challenge of the Gospels. “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Your enemy. The one who opposes you and plots against you. The one who persecutes you, who seeks your ruin. And Jesus says, we are to take our most precious and divine gifts, to love and to pray, and spend them on our enemies? Isn’t this finally too much. Yet, Jesus boldly supplies his logic. “For he [God] makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” In other words, we are all treated the same for we are all God’s creation. Just as God is able to wade through my web of sin to see the Christ in me, he does so for my enemy. He gives up on no one. Once again, we do not need to be redeemed and loved by God in order to love those who love us. The least of us figure how to do that. Jesus came that enemies might be reconciled. So we must see not through our own eyes jaundiced by prejudice and limited perception, but see with the eyes of God who never fails to find the Christ in everyone.
It is no coincidence that Jesus follows the command to love your enemies with the challenge, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect,” for loving our enemies is as close as we can be to being divine ourselves. Put the face of Christ on your enemy. Let me warn you – it will seem disturbing at first. It will look like a horrible distortion and feel like blasphemy. But you will have surrendered your vision for God’s. Your hatred for God’s love.
My friend Fred often teaches a course, “What if Jesus really meant what he said?” We have tried for two thousand years war, violence and hate. Look where it has gotten us. My prayer for the world, our cultures and our families is that we now take Jesus seriously, as if he meant what he said. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies.