The Gospel according to Matthew (5:43-48)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Opening Prayer: Loving Lord, please help me to try to love like You, even when it is difficult, and even when those whom I love don’t love me back. Help me to see them as You do, as Your beloved children, and help me to give to them the dignity that You have given them. Amen.
As we continue through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays down a challenge for each of us. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” One can only imagine what that meant to the hearers of that sermon, as they were under real and severe domination by the Romans. How could they (and how can we) pray for those who mistreat us? The short answer is that we can only do that in the power of the Holy Spirit, and with the grace that comes from God.
It really comes down to the boundless mercy and love of God, and our inability as humans to comprehend what that “boundless” love really means. It’s easy (usually) to love those who love us. It’s easy (usually) to do good to those who do good for us. There’s an implied expectation there – we love and do good, because we know that love will be given and good will be done to us. The more we mature, the less our actions are about that expectation, but it is there, nonetheless.
It is in the difficult times of our lives that living out our love becomes the most difficult. Can we imagine forgiving the one who caused the loss of a loved one through a willful act, or even through something that was not intended? Unless we are in that situation, I do not believe that we can say for sure. For one who does not have faith in Jesus, I can say that forgiveness in that situation will most assuredly not be given.
That same boundless mercy of our God is what gives us the ability to return to Him again and again through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and be made new. God does not keep count and will never fail to shower that same mercy upon each of us, even though we do not deserve it. Thinking of that truth in the abstract is one thing – seeing it in a real life situation or challenge is quite different.
A few years ago, a film came out, based on a book by William Paul Young entitled “The Shack”. It’s a remarkable story that will make you think of the relationship of the Holy Trinity and their relationship to us. There is a scene where the main character, Mack, is told that he has to forgive the killer of his young daughter, Missy. Mack is understandably unwilling to do that, saying that the killer should be condemned to hell. God speaks to him, though, saying that the killer “too is my son, and I want to redeem him.” In the end, Mack says the words, and in so doing, begins to heal from the loss of his daughter. But, the love shown in that scene points to this passage from the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus called for His followers to love everyone equally and to pray for their enemies. In our human strength, we can’t hope to do that, but when we see how God never fails to love and forgive each of us, we have an example that we can try to follow. We won’t get there “perfectly”, but the whole lesson is to be reminded that, while we can’t easily forgive, we can ask God to give us the grace and the knowledge of His love, so that we can forgive even when it is hard to do so.
There’s another line from that same film that helps me to understand that reality, even when we can’t see it. Jesus is speaking with Mack and tells him, “Even if you can’t see it, you are in the center of our love and purpose.” In the film, we see that in a very real way. But, the truth is that each of us are absolutely in the center of the love and purpose of our God. We may not think about God, but He never stops thinking about us. He hopes for the best for each of us, even though it is up to each of us to choose.
May we each pause now and consider how we can share Jesus’ love with those in our lives. May we see that the God who is the One who created us is also the one who redeems us. If we don’t feel that He is near, just turn and look for Him. He is there, loving us, calling us each by name, helping us to have the grace and the ability to forgive those who have wronged us. And, then, most amazing of all, He is there to forgive each of us as many times as we wish to turn to Him!
Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, You forgave those who put You to death on the cross. Help me today to forgive without counting the cost, and to love without expecting anything in return. Walk with me and show me where I can be of service to Your family, and remind me that all things are possible with You. Amen.
Action for the Day: Think of one person that you need to forgive. Ask God to give you the chance to forgive that person and help that person to experience the endless love and mercy that you yourself have received.