Today’s readings are full of wisdom for our pursuit of holiness, that is, for our progress in the way of love. The first reading warns us against bearing hatred in our heart. Hatred damages not only our relationship with those we hate. By it we damage ourselves; we limit our capacity for love. Even in situations of conflict, we are to avoid the destructive trap of hatred. “Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him.”
In our daily life, whether at home or at work, we may have to correct a child’s behavior or bring to the attention of a co-worker an error that was made. At times this admonishing is well received; often it is not. Sometimes it is met with resistance and anger. The Lord does not tell us to refrain from giving correction for fear of another’s reaction. Rather he teaches us not to “incur sin.” “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.” If our correction is not well received, we are not justified in proceeding to gossip about our co-workers and speak ill of them to others. If it is love that has moved us to reprove our brother or sister, then love will also prevent us from becoming filled with hatred, finding ways to take revenge or cherishing a grudge. The Lord calls us to love, and love resists giving in to sin.
The second reading helps us take up this challenge by reminding us that we are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in us. We are not the only ones in whom God chooses to dwell; he also dwells in the person whom we regard as our enemy. Pope Francis says, “An enemy, in fact, is also a human being, created as such in God’s image, despite the fact that in the present, that image may be tarnished by shameful behavior.” We have no right to destroy God’s holy temple! When we are full of hatred for someone whom God loves, we easily convince ourselves of the “wisdom” of retaliation. If that is our disposition, we had better learn quickly to “become a fool, so as to become wise.” The wisdom of this world leads to the foolishness of hatred, revenge and the cherishing of grudges.
In the Gospel, Jesus teaches us a wisdom that the world considers foolishness: he challenges us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. That difficult co-worker or that rebellious child has been placed before us by God so that we can love them and pray for them. Our standard for how to treat one another does not come from the world but from our heavenly Father. He respects our free will, and he continues to love us and bless us whether we take his correction or not. “He makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Sometimes we experience God’s love as the sunshine of approval and sometimes as the rain of correction, but it is always love. As his children, we are called to love one another as he loves us.
Of course, we are not to participate in evil or ignore it. So we can find it puzzling to hear Jesus say, “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” How are we to understand this and put it into practice? Pope Francis explains it beautifully in this week’s Spiritual Reflection: “Jesus does not ask his disciples to abide in evil, but asks them to react; however, not with another evil action, but with good. This is the only way to break the chain of evil…. Evil is, in fact, a ‘void,’ a void of good. It is not possible to fill a void, except with ‘fullness,’ that is, good. Revenge never leads to conflict resolution.”
The more we are filled with the Spirit of God, the more we will be able to “take no revenge and cherish no grudge.” The perfect revelation of love, the perfect example for us, is Jesus on the Cross and Mary at the foot of the Cross – the great work of redemption, to which the upcoming season of Lent will direct us. To remain in a situation that makes us suffer is, by the world’s standards, always foolishness. But Jesus teaches us that sacrificial love is more powerful than all evils. He not only teaches us to replace retaliation with love, he also shows us by example how to do it, and then provides us with his Spirit so that divine love can triumph in us. The Lord who is “kind and merciful,” calls us to be kind and merciful – not only to those who love us in return but to all his children, including those difficult people he places in our lives, so that we will grow in the way of love and thus become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
Do I find it difficult to see the image of God in the persons who do me harm or insult me? When I am harmed by someone, do I see myself finding ways to take revenge or do I ask for the grace from God to resist this sin? As I ponder on these readings, am I asking for the grace to replace any retaliation with love by following the example par excellence of Jesus?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.