Love Your Enemies
In this short homily for 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly tells us why we must love our enemies.
Readings for Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
- First Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
- Second Reading: First Corinthians 3:16-23
- Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48
The subject of today’s mass is “Love your enemies.”
Why are we to forgive? Why is it so important that we forgive?
We think of the Old Testament and think of God as a God of vengeance. It’s not true.
If you remember, Moses, he brought his people out of the slavery of Egypt to the banks of the great Red Sea and he was going to cross over before the mighty Pharaoh with his army destroyed them all.
And Moses lifted up his staff and the waters parted and the Israelites ran across the dry land to the other side just as the Pharaoh and his soldiers were riding fiercely in their chariots towards them bent on destroying them.
The Israelites got to the other side and they were frightened and they turned again to Moses and God said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may flow back upon the Egyptians.”
And Moses stretched out his hand and the waters once again came together and all of Pharaoh’s army went rushing into the waters and they were screaming and yelling and drowning.
But the Israelites were saved and so all the Israelites began to sing and dance with Moses’ sister leading them with tambourines and all praising God.
And the angels in Heaven above, looking down at this great scene, the Israelites were saved and the Egyptians were dying, and they looked down and the angels began to sing and to dance and join them because they too were happy.
And then God turned to the angels and said, “Why are you singing? Why are you dancing when my own children are dying and drowning in the sea?”
We should remember that. The Israelites were the chosen people of God, dear to His heart, but Pharaoh and his army intent on bringing them back into slavery, they also found a place in the compassion and the love and the yearning of God.
It’s God’s love that makes it possible for us to forgive, and that is why he tells us that we must forgive, beginning with each other, because God’s love demands it.
St Augustine, as you know, was a great enemy of God for many years until he finally converted and became the bishop of Hippo and the greatest theologian perhaps the church has ever produced. And this was the prayer of Augustine: “Dear God, if you had treated me as an enemy when I was your enemy, how could I now call you my friend?”
Jesus tells us the reason we find it very hard to imitate God who forgives his enemies is because God has no enemies.
God has made us sacred, He has blessed us with life. He has given us the power to love, but it’s His love, not our love. It’s His life, not our life.
And He waits and He barters and He yearns and He prays, or whatever it is He does, waiting for us to turn and understand and to come home, because we are all His children – the good and the bad, the lovely and the unlovely, the harsh and the gentle. We are all God’s children and we are considered by God to be His family and He loves each and every one of us.
What Jesus is saying to us is that our problem with each other is not that some are good and some are bad, and some are rich and some are poor, and some are this and some are that. It’s that we fail to see what we really are.
We fail to see deeper inside the people that annoy us, the people that we alienate, the people that we feel are doing us harm. We fail to see the hunger of their hearts. We fail to see that they too weep when they are at home alone and sad things happen to them. We fail to see them as fellow human beings. We think of them as the enemy when they are in fact our long lost brothers and sisters.
This is what God is trying to teach us. He’s trying to say that the deeper you look and the more you try to understand what is going on in the hearts of the people around you, the closer you will come to them, and then and only then will you begin to see them as God sees them.
For they, too, are the children of God, and they, too, were created for eternal life and eternal joy, but something along the way may have crippled them.
And what are we to do?
If we see them the way Jesus sees them, we forgive them with the forgiveness of God. We try to love them with God’s love and then it is that we become his disciples.
Jesus on the cross has the final word. He looks down at the people who have destroyed his hope of a future, who have taken away his dignity, who have made him a laughing stock in front of the Romans and own his people, and he lifts up his head and he says, “Father, forgive them, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And it is then that Jesus becomes our Messiah, for when he says these words, he finally and irrevocably says yes to God his Father, yes to us, yes to all the people in our lives.
Jesus says at the end of today’s gospel,
“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
But we forget that the perfection of God isn’t that He knows all, sees all. The perfection of God, according to the Jews, is that God forgives. No matter what happens, he forgives.
And as long as He forgives, we have hope, and as long as we forgive, in every relationship in our lives, there is hope that God Himself will reach down and bring us together as true brothers and sisters at last.
*Father Hanly usually explained that this ending to the Red Sea story was from an ancient Jewish midrash that he always thought was important for us to hear. He doesn’t explain that in this homily, but he does mention it in We Are All Heirs Of Heaven.