Today’s Readings can be found here.
Listen to this homily delivered here.
My brothers and sisters, today’s Gospel is a continuation of the great Sermon on the Mount. Imagine the scene, hundreds of people, if not thousands of people, have heard about this man Jesus, the man who can heal people from their illnesses, can cast out demons and speaks as someone in authority. Some of them were probably there to seek thrills, some of them were probably there to report back to the Pharisees and Scribes what bad things Jesus was doing, and some of them were probably there wondering if this man were the promised Messiah that would liberate Israel from oppression. To all of the people there, Christ opened the possibility to them to become His disciples. Most of the people there were likely not disciples of Christ, not yet – but they were coming to listen to what He might have to say. Some would come and remain with Jesus, learning what it meant to be His disciple, what they needed to do, what they needed to become in order to bear the name of Christian. Others would leave, not willing to pay the price of being a Christian.
This could be the same with us. We are here, but we cannot ever take for granted that we are disciples of Jesus Christ. We have to listen and do what He asks to be His disciple. And so we come here to hear what the Lord requires of us if we are to be His disciple.
Today, in the first reading and in the Gospel, we are told that we cannot hate our brothers and sisters and that we are to love not just our friends, but our enemies as well. This is simple to say, but difficult to do, isn’t it? To be purified of hatred, to be free of anger even towards those who have wronged us? In fact, it is difficult to do, but possible only with the grace of Christ in our hearts.
How are we to love that family member who always picks on us or criticizes us? How are we going to love that coworker who actively undercuts us and tries to get us fired or worse? How are we going to love that person at school or in our office who gossips about us? How are we going to do what the Lord asks of us, and turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us? It is difficult.
One answer may be in the nature of love that Christ had in mind. The love Christ was talking about was not a warm fuzzy feeling that perhaps we see our sweetheart, in fact, it is not a feeling at all. The best way I have heard it said is that the love that Christ wants us to have for our neighbors and our enemies is to desire their true good, pray for their true good, and work towards that true good, with whatever means are at our disposal. We are to pray that the Lord heals the family member that picks on us or wounds us with criticism, not because we want to be rid of the persecution, but because they are hurting themselves and the Lord more by what they are saying than what they say to us. This does not mean we have to be buddy-buddy with them and spend all of Thanksgiving dinner talking to them, but it does mean that our heart is moved to care for them.
We are to pray for that coworker’s true good, that they will refrain from aggression against us because it wounds them and the Lord more than it hurts us. It does not mean that we have to trust them or work with them, but it does mean that our heart is moved to care for them and that we would never retaliate against them, wishing that they would get in trouble or be punished for their behavior. We need to avoid thinking or saying things like: “I hope they get theirs someday.”
We are to pray for the person who gossips against us, knowing that they are hurting themselves and the Lord more than us. We must refrain from seeking to get back at them, point out their gossip, or again, retaliate against them. We must care for them in return.
All of these things are very, very hard to do. And I would say that they are nearly impossible using only our human capabilities. The fact is, we need the Lord and His grace in order to do these things. We need to turn to the Lord in prayer, Eucharist, and especially Confession to receive the grace to overcome our lack of loving.
Lent begins this Wednesday. It is a time to look at ourselves, repent, and believe in this Good News that Jesus is offering us. During this Sermon on the Mount, we have heard what the Lord requires from His disciples. Many people heard what Jesus said and walked away from him. As always, we too, have a choice. Will we become a disciple of Jesus Christ, or not? Will we walk the way with Jesus, or not?