Love your enemy! Jesus challenges the Christian today! He challenges us in a way that many of us fall short and perhaps wish we weren’t challenged. How many of us find it easy to love those who are mean to us, step on us or over us, those who hurt us with their words, their maliciousness, those who seem to be out to get us even? In the face of all the ugliness we face in the world we live in – retaliation, revenge, even indifference towards others, that seems far more palatable than to love those who stand against us in this world. We are told that this must be a part of who we are as Christians, but is this really that important? Can’t we just ignore rather than love our enemies?
Do as I say, not as I do. I remember this line well from my youth. I’m not convicting the adults in my life because there have been many times in my life when I have used the same principle in my own life; even as a priest, where I have encouraged the People of God whom I serve to be holy with very specific challenges and yet, I fall short in those specific areas myself. I think that this resonates with most of us; we struggle with being as true to our word as we’d like to be. Do as I say, not as I do – while it certainly seems like a ridiculous thing for a parent to say, it acknowledges a weakness that my parents had and there comes a point for most children when we discover our parent’s have faults & weaknesses. It this way of thinking may sound absurd, whether spoken or unspoken, it’s also a fairly absurd thing for a Christian to think too; especially since we are all aspiring to be Christ-like.
We may fall short (and we most likely will) but we can’t ever give up trying, striving for the ideal; to love our enemies, to really love them. To pray for them, if all we can do is fervently pray for them, we must do that – but we can’t be indifferent! We can’t do nothing because if we do, we’re not being true to the Gospel, to Jesus. Anything other than fulfilling what Jesus tells us here in today’s Gospel is not to fulfil it! And we have our model. Jesus Himself and many who followed after Him (the early Christians) lived out this Gospel in a heroic and world-changing way. It seemed absolutely ridiculous to non-believers, to others like Saul of Tarsus (later St. Paul) to live in this way. Jesus wasn’t accepted by many of the Jewish people because they awaited a Messiah who would reign down fire and crush aggressors and destroy enemies, or assert such a power that enemies would “fall into line”. But let’s take a look at the world we all live in and the world we know through history from Galilee to today. Superpowers have risen and fallen; enemies were crushed by the Roman Empire yet the empire is gone, the Communist regimes stamped out opponents, even the supreme power the Americans have had I think we can objectively agree has not dealt, solved or fixed all the problems in the world, and power regimes rise and fall. But Jesus who loved His enemies to the very end – He prevails.
Martyrs who professed their faith and love of others until the very end are remembered throughout the world. These are people who by the shedding of their blood offer us encouragement in our own challenges, even if our challenges won’t be to shed a drop of blood. Our Lord and Holy Christian Martyrs model for us: “do as the Lord says, just as we do”. We all know that the example of a Christian is the best evangelization tool we have. Jesus concludes today’s Gospel not with a way out of this, but with comfort for the times we fall short. We hear Him say, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect”. God knows we’re not perfect but He asks us to try anyway. A Christian man must strive for perfection, keep the bar raised high, as high as Jesus Himself kept it and admit when he has fallen short. Then we have the Sacraments (most especially the Sacrament of Forgiveness) to help us to keep moving in the right direction.