Seventh Sunday of the Year
Last week Jesus contradicted a culture that values the rich and powerful. Jesus turns our thinking upside down. Today’s gospel is connected to that of last week. The realisation that Jesus’ teaching can turn our thinking upside down and is diametrically opposed to conventional cultural values should guide us in how we read contemporary news, and about world events, and respond. Everything is the opposite of what our culture claims! Pax Christi Australia will have completed (February 19) a conference on the theme <Where does Australia’s Security Lie?> in a world where 1.4 million people die each year due to violence and 2 billion live in countries mired in fragility and destructive conflict.
In September 2021, Australia joined the USA and the UK in a pact where everything is seen through the security lens especially in relation to China. We see defence alliances and greater spending on weapons to make us feel secure. All leads to greater threats, greater spending on weaponry, and less a sense of sorority and fraternity. Our security lay in more pacts, alliances, and weapons rather than making connections through painstaking diplomacy. Jesus’ instructions hardly need comment. His words should cause many who claim to be his followers to blush especially when much in our economic system and way of life is driven by fear to leading to great weapon purchases, and an economic system that victimises the poorest among us, while enriching a tiny minority beyond belief. We are being called to question the realism and practicality of mainstream politicians and religious leaders who would ridicule anyone adopting Jesus’ approach. Jesus is calling us to find our security in other places. His call to ‘love your enemies.’ (Luke 6:27) are powerful, countercultural, and revolutionary. We are asked to focus more on relationships and the world that can be created. Hence, Jesus call to love our enemies. We heard how David rejected the opportunity to kill Saul out of respect for God who anointed him as king, but Jesus goes further in calling us to ‘Do good to your enemies.’ Pope Francis in Fratelli tutti (para. 217) points to the hard work of building peace. He reminds us that life, for all its confrontations, is the art of encounter (para. 215) which ‘involves transcending difference and divisions. No one is useless and no one is expendable.’ He continues (para. 216) that to ‘speak of a “culture of encounter” means that we…. should be passionate about meeting others, seeking points of contact, building bridges, planning a project that includes everyone.’ This is followed by his reminder that building peace calls for hard work and craftsmanship (para. 217). It calls for a ‘patient effort to seek truth and justice, to honour the memory of victims and to open the way, step by step, to a shared hope stronger than the desire for vengeance’ (para. 226).
Unfortunately, the words ‘love your enemy’ have often been weaponised. We might question the right to tell hurting people to love their enemies. We must question their meaning to people at the pointy end of sanctions, guns, violence or even bombs; or, people oppressed and abused by entrenched power structures? Jesus words have been used to silence the victimised so that others will not be discomforted or inconvenienced by their stories. People have been encouraged to be silent about their pain whether it was related to physical, psychological or physical abuse, or the intergenerational pain caused by colonialism. Vulnerable people have been encouraged to remain in abusive environments and relationships. The message given, is ‘Don’t work for justice. Don’t try to change society. Just forgive and not try to change anything.’ Jesus’s way of loving resistance has also been met with resistance and doubling-down of hatred. People have been killed in the midst of loving their enemies. Jesus outlines a form of nonviolent resistance where we can assert our dignity as well as remind the oppressor of his humanity which is also behind the teaching of Pope Francis. More and more, we seem to live in a climate of sarcasm and insults, provocative language, offensiveness and bullying, violence and hatred. We have seen much of this in recently vis-à-vis Russian and China. We need to reflect on our contribution to this climate. The gospel shows us a way, albeit unnatural, through a different ethic – an ethic of love and forgiveness, love for perceived enemies and a refusal to judge. Do we go with God’s vision or choose another way?
The unrelenting call to love one’s enemies is demanding. It seems unrealistic. Jesus is offering an alternative to past ways where there has been survival of the fittest, doing good for good and evil for evil, or do unto others before they do unto you. His call is for a new way to live with one another but is not to be a doormat. One does not lose dignity or agency. Jesus inverts life for us. The continual call is to go beyond conventional society's values; not accept its categories; not react to people the way they expect us to react. One writer speaking of people in the USA, but people elsewhere too, say they love Jesus but hate his politics whether it be about sharing and redistribution of resources or loving and forgiving one’s enemies. It can be risky and is connected with our image of God. We become like the God we adore. The way to personal and social healing is healing our image of God. What is our image of God? We change, when our image of God changes. If God is self-righteous or judgmental we may feel free to consign people to hell or annihilate them. But, if our God does not treat people that way, we won’t either. The call is to try to see as Jesus sees and allow our hearts be moved with compassion: to be compassionate as the way to break the spiral of violence that crushes so many people.
Jesus' vision of human action is characterised by magnanimity. ‘Be compassionate as God is compassionate’. God is always creating. Can we not see God creating ‘new deeds’ in our midst? Can we hear God saying, Get on with it and build a human society for human beings; otherwise, others will torture and murder the poor, the voiceless, and the powerless? Like it or not, God is compassionate to all people, which includes apparently ‘threatening’ transgender students in school!. God does not respond to wickedness by being wicked in return. The way to be children of God is to act like God – to stop the exchange of negative patterns and be merciful even to the ungrateful and the wicked.
The God of peace calls us to live - not to 'kill' another literally or their reputation or dignity. The Beatitudes map out the way of nonviolence which is life-giving spirituality of non-violence. It begins with the inner life/heart. The world praises the violent, the arrogant, the proud but we are called to peace; to renounce all forms of violence: racism, homophobia, greed, fanaticism, consumerism, hatred, greed, selfishness and destruction of the environment. All are forms of violence. When we take non-violent risks for social change we somehow enter God's peace/space. To be a person of non-violence is to be at peace with oneself. Living with a disarmed heart requires contemplation. Only by really being in touch with the God of peace can our hearts be disarmed of inner violence. By cultivating non-violence of the heart we begin to see God everywhere - in the poor, in the struggle for justice and peace, in our communities, in the Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine, in creation, in our enemies, in one another.
When we give in to cries for retribution and punishment, we give in to Evil. When we give in to fear mongering about vulnerable people, we give in to Evil. When we label asylum seekers as child molesters, murderers and drug pushers, we give in Evil. When we engage in retaliatory behaviours, crimes continue, and we give in to Evil. Jesus’ instruction is not about fantasy but an ‘eyes wide open’ instruction. People will hate you. Jesus is trying to persuade us that it is in our interest to merge with God’s interest, God’s vision of love and compassion and a transformed humanity. It cannot happen with hate. It includes offering a way of life in which people who are poor, vulnerable and powerless can act from a position of strength; to take an initiative that confronts an opponent and leaves the wrong where it belongs. It comes back to realising that the other is one who also needs to be understood and come to his or her liberation. This is no easy option but a radical alternative. It is beyond what ‘even sinners’ do. Our challenge is to go further and not let contemporary standards be our guide. Those who accept this reign, receive a new way of being in the world where violence is answered by peace, hatred defeated by love, injury healed by forgiveness and evil overcome by goodness. May we discover a new priority in our lives and shift in the way we see and respond to the world around us.