Gospel Lectio Divina, 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his disciples: “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
“Love your enemies”
What if you don’t have enemies, though? There may be some people in my life that irk me sometimes, but to call them enemies goes a little too far. Upon further reflection, however, Jesus’ command to love our enemies can take on a deeper, more personal meaning. Jesus wants us to evangelize through love, and a large part of that is loving even those we can’t stand, true. But Jesus also wants us to have peace within our own souls. Loving our enemies is not just about spreading love instead of hate in the world. It’s also about relieving ourselves of the burden we carry when we don’t like someone. This is also the meaning of forgiveness. When we forgive someone, we give to God the pain that person caused us. When we love our enemies, we do something similar: We invite God, who is love, into the relationship. Give your enemies over to love, the most powerful force in the universe, and love will know what to do.
Let’s go back to my original supposition now with this new perspective. What if I don’t have enemies? Surely I do. If there aren’t actual people in my life I can call my enemies, there certainly are people not in my life who I may call enemies, people who interrupt the peace in my soul when I think about them. liket certain politicians, and people I don’t know personally but who lead lives of sin and promote sin. There are other people I removed from my life because I just didn’t like them, or noticed they had a bad influence on me. The more I think about it, the more I notice that my lack of enemies is due to my own choice. It was a process of elimination. I don’t have enemies in my life because I removed them from life. But these people still exist, and I am still called to love them. Noticing this, I enter into an unvisited part of my soul, and recognize that a great deal of the unrest deep inside is due to unresolved relationships I have forgotten about and ignored. Memory of them may re-emerge time and again like an old injury. These relationships, these people, need my love too. It’s about peace in my soul, and in a spiritual way it’s about peace for them too. Who knows what kind of affect the unresolved relationship has on them? Even if we can’t invite them back into our lives, loving them through prayer is still a powerful option.
“Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.”
When I meditate on this verse, I think of Bishop Myriel from Les Miserables, one of my favorite stories. When convict Jean Valjean steals silverware from the bishop, the bishop gives him two silver candlesticks as well. Jean Valjean goes on to live a just life, turning away from his bitter sentiments, helping the poor, and establishing a reputation as a well-respected virtuous man. In other words, when we show charity to others, the good they can do to express gratitude is boundless. Charity is the currency of heaven, and earthly riches do not compare. Charity is an appeal to the soul of a man. Awakening in the heart of a person the spirit of charity often results in a life changed for the better, a saved soul, and perhaps even more saved souls through that saved soul–all because of one simple act of charity. Compared to that, the material items given are of little value.
“Even sinners …”
Jesus is differentiating those who live lives of sin from those who choose to believe in and follow him. We are all sinners, but the distinction between those who consistently choose sin over him and those who choose Jesus over sin is imperative. There is a philosophy that teaches that good and evil are in a constant tug of war. Neither ever really gets the advantage, and in fact there is a balance to the world because of this equal relationship between good and evil. Sometimes this philosophy is referred to as the “yin and the yang”. The Gospel is designed to tip that scale, to end the rivalry between good and evil by returning evil with good instead of evil. The “yin and yang” theory about good and evil may even be true, if not for the Gospel and Christians who decide to live according to Christ’s teachings. Who knows? Maybe good and evil would be in a perpetual stalemate battle if not for Christ. Because of original sin, we are bound to the effects of evil. But Jesus came to rescue us from this eternal cycle, which ultimately leads to death. He is the firstborn of the new creation, and he invites us into that new creation while showing us the way to eternal life with God. First though, we must leave behind the life of sin and follow Christ. He is the only way out of the vicious cycle.
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
The Father is merciful before he is just. He wants to forgive us, but we have to forgive those who trespass against us first. Mercy is what will ultimately defeat evil. Without it, humanity will be stuck in an endless wheel of revenge and sin, and each individual soul cannot reach heaven. God breaks the wheel with his mercy. Justice alone is not enough to save us. Without mercy, there is no hope for us. So thank God that he is merciful.
“For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
It’s common to think of God as a judge who issues out his just rewards and punishments based on the actions of others. Lest we forget, that’s not far from the truth. He tells us not to judge, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t. Nonetheless, his judgment does come with veracity that’s deeper than the proverbial God in the sky with a gavel. He designed the universe to be just. Justice is therefore a law of nature. So, when God makes his judgments and Jesus informs us about how he makes his judgment, he is just explaining how justice works. Jesus’ teachings about God’s judgment are not informing us of some kind of divinely ordained authoritarianism to which we are irrevocably bound. They are teachings about the nature of justice. God is just by nature, and he cannot act in a way contrary to his nature. He cannot decide tomorrow that stealing is okay and adultery is permissible. Doing so would be like eliminating the laws of thermodynamics, which would destroy the universe that is sustained by those laws. Jesus uses the term “measure” because the laws of justice established by God are just as exact as those of science and mathematics. Justice is just as real and objective as any science. Every action has an equal reaction. That’s why God must show us mercy: because justice alone would demand eternal punishment for our sins. God showed us mercy by sending his son to die for our sins, to die in our place, to pay the debt of sin so we can have access to heaven.
I thank you and praise you for your teachings. They are difficult to follow at first, but when I do I see what you’re saying. There is so much more in store for those who do follow you than for those who do not. You established your kingdom upon love, giving it the strongest foundation possible. Those who build anything upon other things build in vain, and will lose everything they gained. Please help me to follow you. Give me faith so I can endure the temptations to turn away from your teachings. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
To notice the wisdom of Christ’s words, we have to listen with our lives. We do that by reflecting upon the ways in which his teachings match reality and our experiences. We listen by paying attention to our surroundings, not just by reading Scripture and meditating on it. The contemplation phase of lectio divina is ongoing. We ought to sit in silence for a while after reading and meditating, yes, but that’s just the beginning. We also ought to continue listening for God as we return to our daily work, other routines, and whatever else transpires in our lives.
Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.