Embrace Extremism!

Occasion: Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the reading from Luke 6·27-38.

Reading

Jesus said to his disciples:
“To you who hear I say,
love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who do good to you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners do the same.
If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners,
and get back the same amount.
But rather, love your enemies and do good to them,
and lend expecting nothing back;
then your reward will be great
and you will be children of the Most High,
for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give, and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

Stand-out words

love your enemieswhat credit is that to you?, stop, give

Reflection

“Religious extremism” is considered a bad thing these days, but what does a Christian extremist look like? Judging by this Gospel, a Christian extremist is no one to fear!

Consider one of your enemies. It should be someone near you, with whom you interact regularly. If you think you have no enemies, then think instead of someone who makes your life difficult, someone whose success you envy, or someone whose failings you disdain. This could be a parent, a child, a spouse, a coworker, a pastor, a government official. Whatever the case, it should be someone you actually know.

Now, suppose this person suffers a serious setback. He needs help. He doesn’t ask you for help, because he knows that, after having fought you in the past, he has no right to expect your compassion. Can you see yourself reaching out to this person and doing everything, everything that Jesus commands in this Gospel?

It’s easy to rationalize the Golden Rule with an abstract enemy. “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” Jesus says, so we tell ourselves, “I am a good person: I don’t hurt anyone.” In all likelihood, you’re one of the billions of people, Christian and non-Christian alike, who esteem themselves as “good people.”

In reality, rationalizing the Golden Rule contradicts the Gospel. Our Lord admonishes us,

If you [only] do good to those who do good to you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners do the same.

It isn’t enough! Those who follow Christ should not merely call themselves children of God; they must act like the God who

  • loved His enemies to the point where he let them manhandle and kill him;
  • blessed them from the cross;
  • acts with daily kindness to the ungrateful and the wicked.

Repetition, examples, comparisons all drive home the point that Jesus expects more of his followers. He doesn’t mince words, doesn’t back off, doesn’t say, “Ha ha, just kidding.”

How might a Christian extremist live these words?

  • Maria Goretti forgave her murderer from her deathbed, contrary to the culture of vendetta.
  • Mother Theresa took poor, dying people off the street and gave them a dignified death — harming their karma, according to the culture of the place and time.
  • Damien of Molokai spent his life ministering to lepers, often scorned as having received leprosy as punishment for their sins.

These are off the top of my head; one could point to numerous such examples. One might even point to the average parish priest, who embraces celibacy for the sake of the kingdom, and often endures hostility from sheep in his flock who live comfortable lives.

Within the Church people often fret: Why do we lack vocations? It’s a strange question, given the answer: we lack true love. Love is not the same as “affection” — love, true love, is an act of the will: it is the ability to sacrifice one’s own good for the sake of one’s enemy. Our shortage of vocations is not limited to priests and religious: for at least as long as we’ve fretted about this shortage, we’ve also suffered from a lack of those embracing an equally important vow, sacrament, and consecration: too many Christians “wed” without actually marrying. They consider a spouse children as possessions to “have” rather than gifts to “receive”; all too often they file for divorce. An increasing number of young Christians have given up on the idea of marriage at all. The shortage of priests and religious was the canary in the coal mine that all too many people were all too willing to shrug off. When we replace true love with mediocrity, true vocations evaporate.

We should not be content to live as mere sinners. Recall the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. How should a Christian behave? Should he stand in the back of God’s temple and beat his breast as he begs for mercy? Or should he loudly signal his virtues: thank God I’m not like Ted McCarrick, or Carlo Viganò; not like Andrew Cuomo, or Donald Trump; not an illegal immigrant, or a white supremacist?

Can you love your enemy?

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