Our Homo Sapiens species has been continually evolving both biologically and socially for over 300,000 years. Some distant time in the past our species had a marked moment in time, as noted by the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre de Chardin, when he said instinct gave way to thought. We became thinking Homo Sapiens (wise man) capable of abstract thought.
Throughout our biologic and cultural history as thinking human beings we have often responded to challenges with primordial instinctual reciprocity. You hurt me, I hurt you. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. In today’s Gospel Jesus says we are to let go of reciprocal thinking when he says “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Love your enemies? Two thousand years ago this certainly would have challenged the Jewish authorities and the Jewish people. Today, we also may be challenged with our own reactional and emotional response to “love your enemies” and then with reciprocal reaction we may say “No way.” Yet, that is exactly what Jesus asked us to do. Love our enemies.
So, who are our enemies? Cambridge dictionary says “a person who hates or opposes another person” and Merriam-Webster defines enemy as “ one that is antagonistic to another.” These may be personal relational definitions and not necessarily militaristic. This could be our lives inside our families, or broken friendships, or with adversaries, acquaintances, in work places or politics, and other everyday life experiences. At times in daily life the words, actions, or emotions of others by way of slights, insults, or misunderstandings may be mistreatment but we are to be aware there are those times the offender may not even know there was an offense. Our ego may play a role creating an enemy.
It has been said that in some ways “liking our enemy” may be more difficult than loving our enemy which emotionally may offer some truth. But Jesus does not ask us to “like” our enemies. He asks us to love them. Bishop Robert Barron has said “love is not a feeling or a sentiment, a private subjective conviction” when he quotes St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Love is willing the good of the other, as other.” At times the “other” is the enemy and we are to will them good.
How are we to love our enemies? Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that we are to reciprocate not with revenge but with goodness, blessings and prayers for them. The depth of the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance and fortitude give us sight and insight into the divinity of the goodness in the “other” whom God sees as divine.
We are to know those who hate, curse or mistreat us at the same time receive gifted love and mercy from God. Today’s Gospel speaks of God’s mercy for all. We also are to live and offer that mercy for the wounding actions of others knowing our own wounding behaviors, actions and sins are also looked upon by God with mercy
It is in this loving, forgiving and letting go of those who have hated, cursed or mistreated us that we can receive the blessed reciprocity of interior freedom leading to holiness.
Deacon Jack Redmond