Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...” (Matthew 5:44). How many times we’ve likely heard or read this challenge from Jesus in the gospels. Perhaps there’s the temptation to skim over it or think “I don’t really have enemies.” I invite you to take the time to reflect more deeply along with me on today’s readings. Especially this challenging gospel that ends with the charge to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” A tall order indeed.
We understand that as human beings we are not capable of true perfection, so what is this “call to perfection” about? Perhaps one clue comes from the gospel of Luke in which the word “merciful” is substituted for “perfect.” So, the call then is to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) Certainly also a challenge, but a seemingly more attainable one while still in our earthly bodies.
I am not a scripture scholar, but that seems to fit well with the rest of the verse about loving our enemies, as it continues “...that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” God shows no partiality, and we are called to do likewise.
Who are our enemies? There’s the obvious answer of those who have wronged or hurt us or our loved ones in some way. Then perhaps there are those who disagree with us, have differing political or religious views. Maybe those we are jealous of, are in competition with in one way or another. And those that we fear, possibly for good reason but often out of our own ignorance and insecurities.
I’d like to add one more: ourselves. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Plagued with negativity and self-critical thoughts, we can punish and, in a sense, persecute ourselves mercilessly. Not in a healthy awareness of our guilt and need for reconciliation, but in an unhealthy “bogged down” by shame and blindness to our value and beauty in God’s eyes.
As we are being called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, let us prayerfully discern who are our enemies. Let us then ask God for the abundance of mercy to show to those enemies, whether without or within. As in today’s first reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we are called to generosity to “test the genuineness of your love by your concern for others.” (8:8) Might this include a call to extend mercy to ourselves as well, as God has already demonstrated for us?
Let us pray for that “perfection” of showing mercy to all, even our worst enemies, through the grace of God.
~ Eileen Miller