Deut. 26:16-19 / Ps. 119:1-8 / Mt. 5:43-48
Loving one’s enemies is something that we Christians accept intellectually and take for granted as basic Christian teaching. But when it comes to putting it into practice I think that most of us have difficulty actually doing it, either on the emotional level or on the practical level. Many people have difficulty separating godly love from emotional, sentimental, or roman tic love. Even if we don’t have a problem with that sort of confusion of feelings, it is difficult to try to practice godly love towards those we clearly know to be our enemies. I can try to tell myself that Saddam Hussein is a fellow human being whom God loves as one of the children whom he has created. But when I see a picture of him with his scraggly beard and rumpled suit, all I can feel is pity at his appearance, or revulsion when I think of the things he has admitted at his trial. Some of the same things might be said of Hitler, Pol Pot, or any other dictator of modern times. Loving one’s enemy has to be worked at with earnest prayer and meditation, aided by the silent language of faith.
A friend of mine recently sent me the results of a survey made by a group of professional people who had asked a group of 4 to 8 year old children the question, “What does love mean?” All of the answers were broader and deeper than anyone would have expected. A 6 year old girl said, “If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.” A 6 year old boy said, “Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.” My reply to my friend was that reading those children’s definitions of love helped me to go to sleep much better than I would have otherwise after a day of difficult people, misunderstandings, and other problems.
Gospel readings like the one which we have just heard present us with challenges to live up to. The same thing can be said of today’s Gradual Psalm. “Oh, that my ways were made so direct that I might keep your statutes!” and “I will thank you with an unfeigned heart, when I have learned your righteous judgments.” (Ps. 119:5 & 7) These verses, and the others like them, look towards a goal not yet attained, and call us to keep on trying.
The last sentence of the Gospel reading presents us with a particularly difficult challenge if we take it too literally. It helps to know that the Greek word “teleios,” translated into English as “perfect,” means “completed,” “realized,” or perhaps another translation might be “well rounded” or “well balanced,” rather than the idea of “perfect” as meaning “spotless” and “without any faults.”
Many years ago someone gave me a book mark that has these words, “Jesus Christ did not say “succeed,” but “STRIVE.” God will not give up on us. We must keep trying to do well; as long as we are seeking the sort of completion to which God calls us.
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