February 19, 2017 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
February 19, 2017
Matthew 5: 38-48
Fr. George Smiga
We all know that the teaching of Jesus can be difficult. There are times where it places heavy demands upon us. But in today’s gospel Jesus seems to be asking for something that is impossible. He asks us to “Love our enemies.” Who can do that? How can we love someone who is trying to destroy us, or somebody who has betrayed us or lied to us? How can we love someone who has hurt people we love? Jesus’ command to “Love our enemy” seems to be beyond human capability.
Now I will not promise you that this homily will make Jesus’ command easy, but I think that I can say some things to help understand his words more clearly. Let’s first consider the word “Love.” Today when we think of love, we think romantically. We imagine being attracted to someone, seeking union or intimacy with someone. But this was not the notion of love at Jesus’ time. “Love” in the first century meant that we recognize that there is good in the person who is our enemy and that we seek to live with our enemy in peace. Now even if we understand love this way, Jesus’ command is still difficult. It is difficult to see good in our enemy or to live with our enemy in peace. But at least we realize that Jesus is not asking us to be attracted to our enemy or to seek union or intimacy with our enemy. Jesus’ command is not a romantic invitation. We are commanded to love our enemy. We do not have to like our enemy.
The second thing to appreciate about Jesus’ command is that it does not leave us defenseless. If our enemy is coming towards us to attack, if someone is seeking to harm us, we are not required to submit to that violence. We have the right to defend ourselves, to separate ourselves from someone who would hurt us. Jesus commands us to “love our enemy” not to “trust our enemy.”
So Jesus’ command does not ask us to “like” or “trust” the person who would harm us. But if we are to “love” in that sense what does it look like? On a national level, Jesus’ command to love our enemy does not prevent us from securing our borders or defending ourselves from terrorists’ attacks. But it does challenge us to recognize that there is good in the person who attacks us and to defend ourselves without basing our defenses on hate.
On a personal level Jesus’ command to love our enemy does not call us to endure abuse either within our families or without. Nor does it mean that we should allow ourselves to be manipulated time and time again. It does ask us to realize that there is value in the person who offends us and to wish that person well, even as we protect ourselves from his or her actions. Loving your enemy, then, does not mean liking or trusting your enemy.
Now even with these qualifications, Jesus’ command is still challenging. Perhaps that is why Jesus also says, “Pray for your enemies.” The best way to find good in our enemy and to live in peace is if our enemy changes. And only God can change human hearts. So as we try to follow Jesus command, it would be wise to bring our enemies regularly before the Lord in prayer, asking that God would change their hearts and our hearts, so that we can live in peace together.