Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

A HARD GOSPEL FOR HARD TIMES

By John Dalla Costa

Jesus’ most challenging teaching is also his most essential: to love our enemies. With the vitriol in today’s politics, and so much hate in our culture, we are forced to confront both the implausibility of such love, and the impossibility of healing our world without loving on these extravagant terms. As Jesus explains, there is no spiritual credit for loving the lovable because nothing really changes. Transformation requires that excruciating effort beyond reciprocity, which alone changes hearts by opening them.

Still, it’s hard. How do we love those who hate or harm others? How do we give to those who are conditioned by greed to only take? What is the line between “turning the other cheek” and self-abnegation? We usually approach such questions by trying to change our view of the enemy. We recall that they too are children of God, with wounds and gifts that warrant our respect. Important though it be to penetrate the veils of vilification that divide our society, community, church and even families, what Jesus teaches is much more for us than for any “them.”

To hate is always to disconnect from the flow of God’s love, so that, in despising others, we are actually depriving ourselves of the very relationship our souls need to thrive. To hate is also to give up our own freedom, choosing a prison of resentments or vengefulness that only hardens our isolation. To hate ultimately denies the truth in that any knowledge we may have gained – even if spiritually valid – only gets suffocated when subjected to the prerogatives of anger.

Jesus understood that power and violence can never break the fiercely reinforcing reciprocities of hatred or suspicion. The truth can only persuade when it is engifted as an act of love.

For me, this most hard gospel only confirms the mystery of the Incarnation. Only a divine heart in a human body could fathom a love so extremely inclusive. And only a human heart pierced by an executioner’s lance has the credibility to demand from us the extreme forgiveness to love even those who hurt us.

Today’s Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48