Matthew 5: 38 – 48
Sometimes we allow the unworthiness that results from of our sinfulness to overshadow the great love and mercy God has for us. We place low expectations on ourselves because, after all, we are unworthy and our sins prevent us from doing great things. This is contrary to what the Bible and Jesus tells us about our identity. The Old Testament begins by telling us that we are created in the image and likeness of God. No other creature can claim that distinction. Of all that God created we, alone, are his image and likeness. In the Reading from Leviticus God tells Moses and the people of Israel to be Holy. In the First letter of Paul to the Corinthians he tells us that we are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in us. These three passages should lift us from feeling that we can do little or nothing with our faith because of our sin, to realize that Jesus, the Word made Flesh, says the word that heals us from sin and makes us worthy to be what God calls us to be. God has not given up on us. He sent Christ to redeem, and the Spirit to sanctify us.
God desires us to have a unique and close relationship with him, and he gives us the gifts we need to draw close to him. As in any true love relationship, it is a commitment that opens us up to receive the blessings and gifts God has for us, as well as the desire to love him with all our heart, mind, soul and spirit, even to the point of great sacrifice. In our relationship with God the blessings, gifts, and ultimate reward, are far greater than any sacrifice we make for him. The gospel today tells us some of what we are called to sacrifice.
Because we are God’s dwelling place we are expected to live holy lives, and in the Gospel Jesus tells us how to do that. His message is bold and is contrary to the way most people of his time though. It is a call to no longer look at justice as, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” It is a call to passivity in conflicts, generous response to those who are in need, and ultimately to love our enemies. This went against most of what they had been taught. For those who truly believed in Christ, they sacrificed their former way of thinking and acting out of love for Jesus. Look at all that the early apostles and disciples suffered, and they did so while praying for their persecutors.
This is a great sacrifice for us, for who does not look for some sense of revenge toward an “enemy.”? Even if it is not deliberate action on our part, don’t we tend to smile when some little misfortune strikes an “enemy”? This is also a challenge for us at a time when society seems to confuse justice with revenge, and views mercy as weak and irresponsible. God is a just judge whose judgments are not made out of revenge, but out of justice and love. Revenge leaves no room for reconciliation, while justice seeks reconciliation in the midst of the consequences of our sins. Mercy is not a weakness it is a strength. The ability to look beyond the hurts we might have experienced, and to be able to forgive and love. This is difficulty, but possible because God has great expectations for us to do great things, because of who we are in his eyes.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.
Image: God the Father by Cima da Conegliano, c. 1515.