Dear Friends in Jesus Christ…,
Jesus gives us today the Golden Rules. It is based on love. We asked to live a life with the power of Christian love, which is a little different from everyone else. The readings also instruct us about our right and wrong choices. The right choices lead us to God, and the wrong ones break our relationship with Him and with one another. It is Jesus’ revolutionary moral teaching about correct choices in our human relationships, placing special emphasis on the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This Golden Rule is amplified by a string of particular commands: “Love your enemies…Do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you.” For Jesus, love is a fundamental attitude that seeks another’s good. Jesus orders us to love our enemies and to be merciful as God our Father is merciful. Jesus challenges us to do for others what God has done for us. “Be compassionate, as your Father is compassionate.” He concludes by instructing us to stop judging and start forgiving.
Love your enemies: This command proposes a course of action that is contrary to human nature. Jesus invites those who follow him to repudiate their natural inclinations and instead follow his example and the example of the heavenly Father. He recommends, not merely a warm affection (philia), such as one might have for one’s family, or a passionate devotion (eros), such as one might expect between spouses, but a gracious, active interest (agape), in the welfare of precisely those persons who are antagonistic to us. Agape is the love that cares deeply for others simply because they are created in God’s image, and wishes them well because that is what God wishes. Jesus not only commanded us to love our enemies, he also gave us the most vivid and awesome example of this type of love in action. While hanging on the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Offer your other cheek to the one who strikes you. This cuts through the old principle of retaliation “an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth”. Jesus is not saying that we should permit the destruction of the innocent and defenseless or allow ourselves to be abused or killed! What are the challenges Jesus gives us in this command to “turn the other cheek”? First, he challenges us to forgive others totally and completely, which means letting go of any and every grudge. He also challenges us not to seek vengeance. In addition, he wants us to be patient with the shortcomings of others and to love everyone, even our enemies. So the bottom line is this: It’s morally wrong not to defend the innocent, when we have a responsibility to do so; it’s morally legitimate to defend ourselves from an unjust aggressor; but it can be virtuous to endure unjust sufferings and even martyrdom for the sake of Jesus Christ and his Gospel.
Forgive and you will be forgiven. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. This message might have sounded very strange to the Jews, who were familiar with a God who was merciful to his own people and vengeful to their enemies. But Jesus repeats his teaching on forgiveness, both in the prayer he taught his disciples “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and in his final commandment to his apostles, “Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another”. Jesus does not advise his followers to overlook evils, wars, economic disparity, and exploitation of the vulnerable. Instead, we are called to forgive, to be merciful and not to retaliate. But we cannot achieve this level of love and forgiveness by ourselves. We need the power of God working through us by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Christian ethics consists not in merely refraining from evil, but in actively doing good, not only to those who are friends, but to those who hate us or do evil against us. In other words, Jesus expects us to rise above our human instincts and imitate the goodness and generosity of God. The observance of the golden rule makes us like God whose love and mercy embrace saints and sinners alike. At the same time the Golden Rule does not require that we allow others to take advantage of us.
What makes Christianity distinct from any other religion is the quality known as grace, i.e., God’s own life working in us, so that we are able to treat others, not as they deserve, but with love, kindness and mercy. God is good to the unjust as well as to the just. Hence, our love for others, even those who are ungrateful and selfish towards us, must be marked by the same kindness and mercy which God has shown to us. His love conquers our hurts, fears, prejudices and grief. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can free us from the tyranny of malice, hatred, revenge, and resentment, and give us the courage to return good for evil. At every Mass we pray the “Our Father”, asking God to forgive us as we forgive others. Our challenge is to overcome our natural inclination to hate family members, co-workers, neighbors etc. who offend us. To meet that challenge, we need to ask God for the strength to forgive each other. We must forgive, because only forgiveness truly heals us. If we remember how God has forgiven us, it will help us forgive others. Let us start forgiving right now by curbing the sharp tongue of criticism, suppressing the revenge instinct and tolerating the irritating behavior of a neighbor.
God Bless You,