Jesus is our Teacher in this Sunday’s gospel selection: Matthew 5,38-48. He goes up a mountain, gathers disciples around him and teaches them.
His teaching about loving our enemies is hard to understand and hard to follow. Does he want us to like everyone we meet? Pretty hard to do that. Does he want us to let people walk all over us? Is that what “turning the other cheek” and “going the other mile” mean?
In this, as in other things he taught, we look to Jesus’ own example for guidance, because he lived what he taught. He did not like some people’s narrowness and pride. He did not let others walk over him or stop him from fulfilling his mission. He spoke the truth and brought his blessings to others, even when powerful enemies tried to prevent him. His death on the cross witnesses his life of fearless commitment.
Loving our enemies does not mean liking everyone or condoning their faults. It does not mean shrinking from our call to do good. It’s about ridding ourselves of the pessimism that leads to condemning someone or some groups absolutely. It’s about a patience that’s like God’s patience. If we see no possible goodness or possible change in people, only intractable evil, then we don’t see as God sees.
This is a love we must grow into. We can’t reason our way into it, we need God’s grace to attain it. We grow to it through prayer, and so we need to rest in a loving God who loves us all this way.
We know we are growing in this kind of love when we see ourselves doing what St. Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans. Some say his words are the earliest commentary on the Sermon on the Mount:
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. Never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God. If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12,17-21
The prayer for today’s Mass asks for this kind of love:
keep before us the wisdom and love
you revealed in your Son.
Help us to be like him in word and in deed.