Reflection for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
Once upon a time, a man of great influence was hunting for another man to kill him for selfish reasons. One day he got reliable information that the victim was hiding in a certain location, and he went with a detachment of armed men to locate and kill the fleeing man. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find him. Exhausted and frustrated, he decided to take a nap alongside his aids.
The entire company got into a deep sleep that they didn’t notice when the victim they were hunting showed up with his aides and surrounded them. That would end the chase, of course, because the hunter now becomes the victim.
But wait, the fleeing man spared the life of the man hunting to kill him for years. Finally, when someone from his company urged him, he said: “Far be it from me because of the Lord that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him since he is the Lord’s anointed.” Your guess is right; the hunter was Saul, and the hunted was David (I Samuel 24:6). This is a typical instance of loving an enemy.
In the Gospel Reading today (Matthew 5:38-48), our Lord Jesus Christ shows up with revolutionary instructions that could discomfort an average Christian today. The instructions come in two broad sections, and we shall examine and relate them to our Christian experience today.
Do not Pay Back, Yield!
Paying back evil for evil, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” (Lev. 24:19-20), aligns with the conventional thought that we get what we deserve. So, it was accommodated in the social justice system of the people as a deterrent. Recall that they were sojourning in the wilderness when this instruction was given; life was crude and brutish.
In this section of the sermon on the mount, our Lord Jesus Christ surprisingly steps down on the idea of “evil for evil” and proposes non-retaliation as a response to evil. To make the instruction more “complicated,” Jesus added that one should not resist when evil is inflicted but yield.
Matthew did not disclose the audience’s reaction to this teaching, but one can guess that it may have been strange, difficult to digest, and hard to practice then as it would be today, except one gets the key. Let us look at the second section; perhaps we may get the key.
Love your Enemies and Pray for those who Persecute You
If people had found the first section hard to understand and accept, the second section, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” could have been more overwhelming and even harder to receive. How could someone possibly love another who hates and hurts the individual? It could be hard, but it is not impossible; David did it to Saul.
Notice that in the First Reading (Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18), God instructed Moses to tell people not to bear hatred against anyone in their hearts, correct others with prudence, and love their neighbors as they would love themselves. However, there was no instruction on loving one’s enemy, nor was it commanded to hate them. The Book of Proverbs (24:17) says, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.”
How to Love Your Enemies
A bit of definition would help us here. Love is often misunderstood as a feeling, but it is more than a feeling. Love is an action. To love is more of doing than feeling because love focuses on the loved one, not the lover. So, in a word, love is sacrificial.
To love an enemy (someone who radically differs from you in sensitive areas) means going the extra mile to accommodate the individual as you would for anyone who cares about you.
Loving your enemies does not mean hanging out with them or doing dramatic displays to create a superficial sense of cordiality. On the contrary, you can love an enemy without putting up a show. Let us consider four ways of loving:
Through Your words: This includes what you say to your enemies and what you say about them. Words are powerful, and they can build or destroy. Therefore, St. Paul (Col. 4:6) would say, “let your words be seasoned as salt so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Through Your actions: It is a common and truthful statement that actions speak louder than words. Sometimes our actions contradict our verbal professions. St. Paul writing to the Romans (12: 20-21) gives us some practical guidelines for loving our enemies:
If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.
Through Your thoughts: Thoughts often precede words and actions, and sin begins with our thoughts. You may not say or do anything to your enemies, but what about your thoughts concerning them?
St. Paul finally recommends that we give our thoughts to whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Ephesians 4:8).
Through Your Sincere Prayers: In addition to loving our enemies, Jesus said. “Pray for those who persecute you.” Your persecutors are still enemies, in fact, more vicious ones, but our Lord instructs us to pray for them.
Praying for your enemies and persecutors positively contributes to their conversion and transformation. Recall the prayer of Jesus on the cross for his executioners “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).
Moving Forward: Why You Must Love Your Enemy
Beyond knowing how to love your enemies and to pray for them, one may want to know why. In other words, what does one stand to gain by doing so?
First, loving and praying for your enemies would make you different from them, so you are the bigger person. Furthermore, it shows the strength of your character and spiritual maturity.
You stand to gain in loving your enemies and praying for them because you invite God to bless you and handle them how he deems fit. It is, therefore, a way of letting go and letting God fight your battle.
God bless you.