Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
I am going to read the gospel I just read for you in a different format. I am going to read it in the form of 12 demands.
- Love your enemies.
- Do good to those who hate you.
- Bless those who curse you.
- Pray for those who mistreat you.
- Give to everyone who asks.
- Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
- Lend without expecting anything back.
- Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.
- Stop judging.
- Stop condemning.
- Forgive and you will be forgiven.
- Give and gifts will be given back to you.
In light of these teachings, let me pose a few questions to you. Think about a time when you found it genuinely difficult to follow any one of these teachings? Why was it difficult? Were you afraid of what it would cost you or what you stand to lose? What would you have gained? What did you finally do?
Let me say three things about today’s scripture readings:
1. Christianity – The Way. In the early church, the followers of Christ were not called Christians. Christianity was simple called, “the Way” (Acts 9:2). I find this to be very telling about the religion we now belong to - Christianity. It means that more than anything else, what Jesus began was a movement a way of life. Jesus had said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” On the one hand, “the way” referred to the person of Jesus Christ. Equally, though, it referred to the way of life that he showed us. In today’s gospel reading, we have a snippet of the way of life he proposed to his followers. Yes! We are invited to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, pray for those who mistreat us, give to everyone who asks of us, do unto others as we would have them do to us, lend without expecting anything back, be merciful just as our Father is merciful, to stop judging, to stop condemning, to forgive and to give freely and unconditionally. I ask you this question again, “How are you doing?”
2. Christianity – Subversive and Countercultural. The early church was an underground movement. To the extent that it was underground, it was subversive. However, it was subversive in yet another way. Quietly, deeply, and surely, their way of life was beginning to transform society. They did this by following the way that Jesus laid out for them. For example, even though the early Christians were persecuted, there is not one instance of retaliation, of weaponization, of a strategy for war. Even the most brutal persecution did not stop the early Christian from loving their enemies, from doing good to those who hate them, blessing those who curse them, and praying for those who persecute them. In this way, the early church was subversive in a counter-cultural way. History shows that there are times in history when the Church lost its way. It got too aligned with the ‘powers that be,” and lost her edge, her mission, her gospel message. The child abuse crisis is just one example of this. We too must be aware of the same danger- the danger of watering down the gospel message. We must watch against compromising the gospel for the sake of our politics, our ideologies, and our prejudices. We must ensure that the Church and we constantly maintain our subversive and counter-cultural stance.
3. Giving Mercy It's Due. Today’s first reading tells us one way in which the church must be counter-cultural – be being a sacrament of mercy. The first reading is the story of David, against whom Saul was launching a coup. Fate had it that David found Saul in a vulnerable position. One thrust of the spear and David could have eliminated his arch rival and secured the kingdom. Instead, David showed mercy. The key to understanding all of today’s readings is Jesus teaching, “Be merciful just as your heavenly father is merciful. In fact, all the Jesus teachings in today’s gospel reading revolve around the virtue of mercy. Forgiving your enemies is an act of mercy! Doing good to those who hate you is an act of mercy. Blessing those who curse you, praying for those who persecute you, giving to those who ask, lending without expecting it back, not judging, not condemning, forgiving others and God forgive us – these are all acts of mercy. Unfortunately, we live in a very vengeful, vitriolic, spiteful, and bitter society today. Believe it or not, but the most gifted item for Christmas the last few years in a row was guns! Not only does Jesus teach us the contrary in words, but he also taught us by example that showing mercy, forgiving, doing good to our enemies is possible. Now the question is whether you and I will follow him or not. Whether is it the child in the womb, or the immigrant children separated from their families and put in detention camps, whether it is a citizen or a refugee, whether it is the confessional or those on death row, will we be merciful just and our heavenly father is merciful?
- Fr. Satish Joseph