Dear Friends, I am back from Holidays. Thank you for visiting my homilies.
7th Sunday, OT Year C – 19
ISm 26 2:7-9, 12-13, 22-23; I Cor 15:45-49; Lk 6:27-38
Today’s gospel is one that no preacher wants to face. It contains what is perhaps Jesus’ most difficult teaching: that we are to love our enemies.
Now there are many things about Jesus and his teachings that are attractive. We love it when he blesses the children, when he promises us eternal life, even when he asks us to love one another.
But when he asks us to love our enemies and to pray for those who mistreat us, that is a different matter.
That is a difficult teaching. But before we dismiss this teaching out of hand, before we conclude that it is an impossible teaching to follow, we might want to consider what is the alternative.
What principle will guide us, if we reject what Jesus tells us we should do?
During the Korean War, a group of American GI’s decided to hire a young Korean boy to clean up around the barracks and to prepare meals for them.
The boy who they hired had a delightful personality, always upbeat and easy-going. No matter what the soldiers did, he only smiled and continued his work. So the soldiers decided they would compete to see who could make the boy angry by playing practical jokes on him.
One time they nailed his shoes to the floor of the barracks. But the boy simply took out some pliers and pulled up the nails. He smiled and kept on with his work.
Another time they put a pail of water on the door so that, when the boy came in, the water fell on him and completely drenched him. But he dried himself off, smiled and continued with his chores.
They tried one practical joke after another, never with an angry response. Finally, they felt embarrassed about the whole project and decided it needed to stop.
So they called the boy in and they said, “You have such a wonderful personality, such a forgiving nature, that we are not going to do any more practical jokes.”
The boy said, “No more joke?” “No more,” they said. “No more nail in shoe?” “No more,” they said. “No more water on door?” “No more,” they said. “Good,” the boy said, “then no more spit in soup.”
This story presents the alternative principle to Jesus’ teaching. It is a principle summed up by a phrase which I am sure you have heard: “Don’t get angry, get even.”
Getting even is something we all understand. When people hurt us, we want to hurt them in return. There are many ways of getting even. Often it takes the form of withholding love or breaking off communication.
Is it not this action which so often destroys our families? One of my greatest privileges as a priest is to meet with families at the time of death.
Generally those meetings are blessed, wonderful experiences of sharing the qualities of the deceased person and what that person meant to the family.
But every once in awhile in those meetings, there is a member of the family who is absent.
When I ask where the person is, the rest of the family sometimes sheepishly responds, “Well there was bad blood between Mom and Patrice,” or “Stephen has never got along with his sister.”
Then when I ask, “Well what was the cause of that rupture?”, the family is often unsure. There was some kind of dispute, some kind of argument over money, some kind of disappointment.
Now it has been ten, twenty, thirty years, and these two family members have never talked. They were both hurt, and they both dug in their heels and refused to communicate in an attempt to get even.
Does not that same principle explain so much of the violence that we find in our cities and in our country? Somebody is betrayed in a business operation. Someone cheats in a marriage relationship.
Some kind of thievery occurs. The offended person has a gun and uses it. “There,” they say, “now we are even.”
Are not most of the world’s wars also the result of this principle pushed even further? One faction attacks another faction and the response is to attack with even greater force.
One atrocity provides the opportunity for a greater atrocity. Before you know it a whole society is caught up in an escalating circle of violence. Bodies lay in the streets, and the fabric of society is destroyed.
No one needs to explain to us the principle of getting even. We all seem to take it in with our mother’s milk. It is one of the most basic human responses. When we are hurt, we hurt in return.
When someone hates us, we hate back. When someone approaches us with violence, we respond with greater violence.
Responding to hurt in kind is the most common response in our world: personally, interpersonally, and internationally. It typifies the way we usually act.
Now, if Dr. Phil was here now, he would say, “And how’s that working for you?
Do you like the results that you are getting by responding to hate with more hate and to violence with more violence? Are you pleased with the outcome from following the principle of getting even?”
Each one of us has to answer for ourselves, but look at the world around us. Getting even is destroying us.
Now Jesus’ teaching offers an alternative, a striking alternative, but an alternative nevertheless. Jesus’ teaching calls us to break that ever-escalating cycle of hurt, hatred and violence.
Jesus dares to tell us that if we are hurt, we should not respond in hurt but instead forgive. If someone hates us, we should not hate in return but should instead love.
When someone treats us violently, we should not match that violence, but instead choose non-violence.
Now is that easy? Not at all! Is it possible? Not all the time. But before we dismiss the teaching of Jesus as something that is undoable, we had better admit that the present policy that we are following is getting us nowhere.
It is leading to disaster. Loving your enemy is not an easy teaching but before we say that it is impossible, we had better think again—especially when we realize that the alternative is insanity.
Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.