Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 20, 2022

Sister Therese O’Grady, OSB reflects on the scripture readings: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38

This gospel passage from Luke 6 reminds me of our Rule of Benedict (RB), Chapter 4, Tools of Good Works in which Benedict enumerates 74 tools which a monastic can live by. Many echo these suggestions Jesus makes in this gospel. It seems that St. Benedict is reiterating Jesus’ words to his disciples in this passage.

Jesus, like Benedict calls his disciples to listen: “To you who are listening I say…”

Benedict uses this same call at the beginning the Rule: Listen with the ear of your heart.

Which according to Fr. Timothy Backous of St. John’s Abbey might mean complete concentration of the listener; to be free from anxiety as well as from greed; or having a capacity for empathy. It is an art. It is an “art like reading poetry.” So, we are called to listen to what Jesus has to say in this as though we are in the group listening with the ear of our heart.

The first thing Jesus says (and he says it three times here) is, “Love your enemies.”

In the context the Greek word for love is philien – an active feeling of benevolence (good will) towards other people. It means that no matter what others do to us we will never allow ourselves to desire anything but their highest good.

Love your enemies. We cannot love our enemies as we love our nearest and dearest; to do so would be unnatural, or perhaps supernatural. But what we can do is seek nothing but their highest good. (Barclay Luke)

In our current context of Covid, those who violated the Capitol, the unvaccinated, I pray may their hearts and minds be transformed into the heart and mind of Christ.  (Get vaccinated!)

In the Rule of Benedict (RB Chap 4: tools), Benedict again repeats Jesus’ second commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, as me, we are one. Benedict repeats Jesus’ command as RB 31: love your enemies.

According to Jesus the test of discipleship is the love of enemies, which makes no sense by any earthly standard and must be based on faith. This is the Golden rule which bids us to do to others as we would have them do to us. The Xian ethic is positive. It is not about not doing things, but in doing them.

Jesus said, “Do good to those who hate you.” RB Chapter 3. “Serve one another in love.” RB 64/11. We must hate the faults but love the sisters.

(Jeffrey) In some groups of Jews, such as those at Qumran, the right to hate one’s enemy was spelled out.  In the context of Roman occupation, in which every Jew yearned for restitution and the Zealots for retribution and revenge, Jesus’ words seemed especially radical. We can imagine that for such as Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, not to mention those in the crowd less well attuned to Jesus, there would have been palpable irritation at such sayings as, “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from the one who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.” Our familiar proverb about being willing to give the shirt off one’s back to another in need has its source here. .

Mahatmas Ghandi told the world: if we take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth it makes the whole world blind and toothless!

Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” RB 2: pray for your enemies out of Love for Christ. And from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.

                This too contrasts with what we read in some of the psalms of the Old Testament:

Psalm 7: “threaten the wicked every day, all those who will not repent”

Psalm 125: “do good O God to those who are good…but the crooked and those who do evil drive them away.”

Psalm 35: “Let those who seek my life be shamed and disgraced.”

Do to others as you would have them do to you. In all cases and in every circumstance, we are to do to others as we would have others do to us. Jesus is clear. We are not to do to others what they do to us, but what we would want them to do to us. More to the point, we to do to them what Jesus would do to us. Do we respond like sinners, like the wicked and the ungrateful, or do we respond like the children of the Most High, like Jesus, with graciousness, with a blessing rather than a curse?

In the Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare has a thing or two to say about mercy and justice:

“The quality of mercy is not strained;

it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.

It is twice blessed – it blesseth the one that gives,

and him that takes.

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

when mercy seasons justice.”

 And to those who are listening Jesus says: “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Lend expecting nothing back.”

This is a stringent saying: one is not to lend to another in the hope of getting something back some day.  Bonaventure suggests that in loving one’s enemies and doing good, we are to lend without any hope of reward. Here too we have higher standard than that the law of Moses in Deuteronomy 23:19 which permits lending at interest to the “stranger,” though not to the “brother.” Jesus asks us to treat the stranger, even the enemy, in the same way as we treat those to whom we are bound as kin or in friendship.  (Footnote) This principle accounts for a general aversion to moneylending as an occupation among some early Christians. Gregory of Nyssa calls borrowing at interest a “destructive monster” and says to those who make their living by it that they should give it up, that they should get their living by work, service, even begging if necessary: “anything is more tolerable that borrowing upon interest.” (Quoted in Aquinas, Catena Aurea 3.1.220)

Then your reward will be great. For God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father/Mother is merciful.”

The basis for all of this now made clear; it is not merely another order of social reciprocity, not merely interpersonal, but self-transcending gratitude of the mercy of God.

  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.”

With mercy,

upon mercy,

upon mercy.

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