You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Reflection - (I am away at the Nazareth family camp this week, but left the blog on automatic post-pilot. Comments are moderated, as I am not around to check them.)
Catherine Doherty loved to tell the story of her first confession. The heavily bearded Russian Orthodox priest was only interested in one thing about the small child in fron of him. “Little girl, have you loved your enemies?” Initially non-plussed, she had to admit upon consideration that there were a couple of girls in her class she wasn’t getting along with too well. That was the heart of the Gospel, the priest admonished her, to love those girls, before he gave her absolution and sent her home.
Another story from the desert fathers I heard long ago. A young man burst into the cell of his abba, his spiritual father, and told him “Abba! Abba! I was praying just now and the heavens opened for me and I saw the face of God!”
His abba responded immediately, “Yes, my son, but have you loved your enemies?”
So we’re into heart of the Gospel territory here. Do you have any enemies? How are you doing, loving them? These enemies may not be big dramatic enemies, like in a lurid action movie. Not too many of us are squaring off against Hans Gruber or Lord Voldemort on a daily basis.
But we do square off against those girls in our class we don’t get along with too well. Those co-workers who are obnoxious or lazy, those family members who are annoying or hurtful, those neighbors who are loud or disputatious. Or people who we have clashed with in matters of private faith or public policy, people on the ‘other side’ of whatever issue we care most passionately about. And then there are those people who have really and truly hurt us, or hurt people we love.
So… how are we doing, loving our enemies? Heart of the Gospel time, this is. ‘That you may be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect’. People will isolate this verse from its context and go in terrible directions. Perfectionism is a scourge upon the human race, the terrible sense that, no matter how hard you try, you can never be good enough, never measure up.
But in this Gospel context, it’s not like that. ‘Perfect’ in Greek has the sense of fullness, of maturity, of developing to one’s full nature and purpose. And we see here that this love of enemies business is not, then, just a nice idea if you want to be a reallllllllly good person (and OK to forget about if you just want to be a regular good person), but is in fact the very thing meant by ‘a good person’. We are made to love the way God loves, and God loves everyone.
So the crummy co-worker, the rotten relative, the nasty neighbor, the irritating interlocutor, the egregious evil-doer (alliteration is fun!) – we have a job of work to do, don’t we? We have to love them, simply because God loves them, and we have to pray for wisdom to know how to love them. That’s the Gospel, and that’s that.