A Pastor was opening his mail one morning and one envelope had only a single sheet of paper with a single word boldly printed on it; “FOOL!”
The next Sunday, the Pastor made the following announcement in the Church, “Ever since I came to this Parish, I have known many people who have written letters and have forgotten to sign their name. But this past week, for the first time in my life, I received a mail from someone who signed his name and had forgotten to write a letter.”
The Gospel we read today is the continuation of the one of last Sunday and it includes the fifth and the sixth examples of Jesus’ new interpretation of some of the laws of the Old Testament. Jesus follows a pattern in this presentation. He reminds his listeners what the law was, and then he gives his interpretation, fulfillment or antithesis. He begins by saying, “You have heard that it was said… But I say to you…”
Listening to the Gospel passage of last Sunday, one would have said that Jesus is putting the possibility of being good Christians out of our reach. Remember he said, if you are angry with your brother, you are guilty of murder. He also said, if you look at a woman or a man lustfully, you are guilty of adultery. How easy it is to be guilty of these grave sins. Today’s passage even takes it further as it says that we can’t take revenge and even expects us to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us.
But wait a minute, does Jesus really mean it in the literal sense that we should turn the other cheek? If I do that, will it show that I am a good person or that I am a stupid person? Jesus had a good opportunity to practice turning the other cheek when slapped but rather than turn the other cheek when he was slapped, he protested in John 18: 23, “If I have spoken wrongly, point it out: but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” This means that we cannot give a literal interpretation to what Christ is saying today. Turning the other cheek does not seem to imply that we should create more enabling environment for those who do evil to grow in their evil. The message here is that, as Christians, we should correct people in a way that does not make us as bad as the one we wish to correct. Correction should not be from the stand point of satisfying our anger and carrying out vengeance.
Some scholars suggest that the central and most famous section of the Sermon on the Mount is where Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” But is this really practicable? We have to be careful with this so that it does not make a stupid person out of a Christian. A good way to understand this demand is to go back to the original language (Greek) in which the New Testament was written. Greek is a language that is rich in synonyms. While in English, we use the word “Love” for different contexts, Greek is able to provide different words for these contexts. In Greek, there are at least four different words for love. They are, eros, storge, philia, and agape.
The commonest New Testament word for love is the noun agape along with its verbal form, agapan. Agape appears almost 120 times in the New Testament, while agapan appears over 130 times. This is the kind of love that Jesus is referring to in today’s Gospel passage when he asks us to love our enemies. This love is not restricted to our nearest and dearest. The other kinds of love are expressions of our emotion. They have to do with the heart. They express an experience which comes to us without our efforts. Those kinds of love are not achievements. Agape on the other hand has to do with the mind, it is not simply an emotion, it is a decision; it has to do with the will. It is a decision to love the unlikable. This is what makes us to love like God, who loves not just because of, but in spite of. So, Jesus is not asking us to love our enemies in the same way we love our dearest, and nearest. Agape entails conquering our natural tendency to anger and to bitterness.
This commandment requires that we pray for our enemies, as no one can pray for another person and still hate that person. The surest way of killing bitterness is by praying for the one we are tempted to hate. Christ gave a good example of praying for our enemies when he said on the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). This is what it means to be perfect as our Heavenly Father.
The Greek word for perfect is teleios. The Greek idea of perfection is functional. It means that a thing is perfect if it fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned, and designed and made. So, a human being is perfect if he/she realizes the purpose for which he/she was created and sent into the world. In order to find the purpose for which human being was created, we go to Genesis 1: 26, which tells us that human being was created to be like God. Today’s Gospel tells us something important about God, it tells us that God allows the sun to shine on both the good and the bad, and also allows the rain to fall on all without discrimination. So we become perfect when we become like God, and we become like God when we love both the likeable and the unlikable. And so, Dearly Beloved in Christ, as I end this homily, I wish to share with you, something that is very important to me; it is this, “I love you all!”