Year C: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Be merciful just as your Father is merciful
Luke 6: 27-38
“But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [is] that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful. “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
- Have you ever tried to consciously love an enemy? If so, how did things turn out?
- Where do you struggle with the advice Jesus gives in this gospel passage and how are you opening to transformation in these parts of your life?
- How are the instructions Jesus gives in this gospel on your mind and in your responses as you move through your day? Are these not the A-B-C’s, of following Jesus?
- The rewards God gives us are often not what we would expect or even think to ask for. When have you experienced a “spiritual reward” from loving others without expectation? Tell the story.
Dr. Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
Today we continue the sermon begun in last Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus has come down from the mountain (this sermon is often called the sermon on the plain), and has been speaking to the newly appointed Twelve, a large group of disciples, and a crowd who are probably discerning whether or not to become disciples.
Notice that Jesus begins, “To you who hear I say ” Jesus isn’t referring just to one’s ability to hear sound, but to one’s ability to comprehend, to take something to heart, and to act upon it. People will have to listen very carefully to Jesus to understand what he is saying because, on the surface, Jesus’ advice doesn’t seem to be good advice at all.
Jesus tells the crowd, “… love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” It is extremely hard not to feel resistant to this teaching because it seems to go against human nature. Our enemies are the last people on earth we want to love. If a person strikes us, we want to hit that person back, not offer the other cheek. If a person takes our coat we want to get it back, not offer him our sweater as well. If people ask us for something, we think about whether or not they deserve to have it. We wouldn’t want some lazy person to have a free handout. If someone takes what is ours without asking, the last thing we are going to do is let that person keep what has been stolen. Jesus’ advice seems way off the mark. Don’t we have a right, maybe even a duty, to protect ourselves and our property?
Jesus seems to understand that the crowd is feeling resistant. Jesus points out that it isn’t at all difficult to act lovingly toward another if we expect some benefit to ourselves. If, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we love only those who love us, and we lend only to those who can we love only those who love us, and we lend only to those who can pay us back, we are not distinguishing ourselves from sinners. There is no particular virtue in acting generously only for the sake of being repaid.
Then Jesus returns to his original instruction: “… love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High” If we love our enemies we will receive a reward after all. However, this reward will be a spiritual, not a material reward: we will become children of the Most High.
Why is becoming God’s children the fruit of loving one’s enemies? Because when we love our enemies, we are acting like our heavenly Father acts, who is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” We are to give others an experience of God’s love by the way we treat them. We are to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Jesus then teaches his disciples that the way we treat others is the way we ourselves will be treated: “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” If we do not hear and follow Jesus’ instructions, instead of entering a new and deeper relationship with God we will experience what it is like to be treated as we treat others, in a judgmental and unforgiving manner.
Now, after originally telling the disciples not to act with the hope of reward, Jesus tells them that if they love their enemies their reward will be great. “Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.” Those who become Jesus’ disciples, who hear and follow his instructions, will be all the more open to receive God’s bountiful love, love that God pours out even on our enemies.
Pausing for Freedom
Jesus was walking down the road with his disciples. Some people threw stones at him and cursed him. Jesus blessed them. The disciples asked him, “Master, why do you bless those who curse you?” Jesus replied, “I can only give what I have in my purse. ”
Surely this simple Sufi story about Jesus’ powerful teaching on going beyond reciprocity hides something crucial. When we are attacked, there is an instinctive drive to protect ourselves and fight back. The negative pressures of the outer world do not give us much time to think. They want us on their own terms. Those terms may not be what we choose, but they are often how we deal. Those of us who are not securely conscious of our deeper loving identity are unable to immediately find our purse. But a rock seems always at hand.
This is the distinction between reaction and response. Reaction is knee-jerk, a mindless, mechanistic imitation of what is presented to us. As I chanted in fourth grade, monkey sees, monkey does. Response, however, is mindful, a bringing forth of who we really are to engage what has approached us. Obviously, response is preferable. But response takes time. It is not only that we are to think before we act. We are to find the inner space where we are unconditionally loved by God. This love is a creative rush that fills us and overflows, making our speech and action a generous measure rather than a paltry slap back, unworthy of the merciful God’s child.
While wandering through a library, Stephen R. Covey stumbled upon a book with three sentences that “staggered me to the core.”
Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.
In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.
(The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness
[New York: Free Press, 2004] 43)
We have a transcendent freedom that opens a space between what acts on us and how we act back. The ability to inhabit this space is the beginning of spiritual development. Of course, Jesus’ teaching goes beyond this. It is not just that we are free from compulsive reaction, we are free to embody the loved and loving identity that is our core. So much contemporary spirituality glories in the freedom that flows from our spiritual identity. It relishes the liberation from reactivity. But often there is a strange silence about what this freedom is for. Transcendent freedom is the first step of transcendent loving.
However, in actual situations it is the size of the space between stimulus and response that matters and the length of time we are able to inhabit it. In other words, the space has to be our home, a generous space of light and warmth. We have to possess the key to this space; and we have to be able to rest in it, to be comfortable in its surroundings. If we engage in consistent spiritual practices, they will help us widen this space and lengthen our dwelling time. Therefore, we will be able to go there when need arises. Need arises when the negative flow of life wants more participants for its destructive agenda. At that time we are to go to the space that is free and loving, not to retreat out of fear but to prepare for action.
Of course, nothing is automatic. This space readies us for speech and action, but it does not supply the speech and action. “Loving enemies, blessing those who curse you, praying for those who persecute you, lending to those who cannot repay” are general imperatives for proactive, graceful living. But they are not specific instructions about what to say and do. Therefore, pausing is necessary not only to create the space of freedom and love between stimulus and response. It is also necessary to figure out the response. So, if you see me in silent pause amid the swirling negativity of events, do not think I am lost or aimless. I am merely trying to find my purse.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle C, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2006 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc. www.paulistpress.com.
Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.