“I say to you, love your enemies” (Mt 5:44)

by Shiu Lan

Jesus is preaching the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples. In this Sunday’s gospel reading, we hear that Jesus sets for them a standard of moral righteousness – a standard of mercy – that surpasses the Old Covenant (Ref. ICSB P17). The Father is kind and merciful to the good and the wicked alike, “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45). Likewise, Jesus calls his church to imitate God’s perfect compassion, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (LK 6: 36, Ref. CCC 1968).

Jesus does not come to abolish or devalue the precepts of the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament, nor does he add new precepts to the Law (Ref Mt 5:17-18). Rather, Jesus “releases their hidden potential and has new demands arise from them” (CCC 1968). His demands of “Do not resist one who is evil” and “Love your enemies” arise from “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” and “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy” (Mt 5:38, 43). Jesus comes “to fulfill” the law, he expects his disciples and us to be “perfect, as (our) heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:18, 48).

St. Paul in the second reading cautions those who think they are wise, for God ensures their arrogant schemes fall apart (Ref 1 Cor 3:19-20, ICSB P289). Again, He regards what the Lord says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” as prohibition against private retaliation (Rom 12:19, Ref. ICSB P16). It is not necessary for the faithful to take justice into their own hands. God does not overlook evil or wrong doing, he will execute justice on the day of judgement; our duty is to extend mercy to our enemies as Jesus teaches us (Ref Mt 5:44, Ref. ICSB P276).

In the parable of the unmerciful servant (Ref Mt 18:23-35), the merciful king, out of pity, had forgiven a servant of a sizeable debt and set him free. As soon as he was released, he took his fellow servant to prison for owing him a much smaller debt, until the debt was paid. When the king knew about this, he asked the unmerciful servant, “Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (33). In anger, the king put him in jail until he had paid his whole debt. “So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” Jesus said (35).

What Jesus said on the cross -“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” - is an ultimate example of perfect love for his enemies and persecutors (Lk 23:34). For us, imitation of divine perfection may be a very difficult if not impossible mission to achieve. So Jesus proceeds to reform us from the heart, the root of human acts. It is in the heart where we choose between pure and impure, where faith, hope, and charity are formed, and from these, the other virtues are developed. It is in the heart that things are bound and loosed. If we offer our hearts to the Holy Spirit, what is impossible may become possible: our memory may be purified, the injury may be turned into compassion and the hurt into forgiveness and prayers for our enemies and persecutors (Ref CCC 1968, 2843).

Let’s make an effort to collaborate with the Holy Spirit, put away completely the bitterness and anger in our lives and "(forgive) one another, as God in Christ forgave"; by showing mercy to others, we thank God for his mercy (Eph 4:32, Ref. ICSB P351).

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