It’s easy to be kind and loving towards those whom we like, to our family and friends, to those who are good to us. All this comes naturally. But Jesus expects much more of His followers. In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to be good to those who harm us, to turn the other cheek when they strike us. Is Jesus being unrealistic?
Let’s first recognize that Jesus doesn’t expect us to like everyone. There will be some people who get on our nerves, and we may have enemies who are determined to harm us. Experience tells us that retaliation tends to escalate either with stronger physical or verbal blows. The innocent victim imitates the aggression of the aggressor. In the heat of anger we may well say or do things which we will later regret. Retaliation doesn’t do much good. Bitter, vengeful thoughts and actions destroy our peace of mind.
So let’s see if Christ’s approach does work. Jesus teaches His followers to go beyond the Golden Rule, which urges us not to do to others what we wouldn’t want to be done to us. Certainly we must follow that rule. But Jesus expects us to have a positive approach to those who harm us. We must show them love by wishing them well, not evil, by doing them good, however possible, instead of harm. Surprisingly in most situations, such a positive, generous approach can defuse a tense situation and can sometimes turn an enemy into a friend.
At times we may encounter mentally and emotionally sick and sometimes even evil people. We have the duty of stopping such people from harming us or others. It’s for everyone’s good that we should help the aggressor to cease from being aggressive. Christian Love should move us to correct them or in some cases restrain them.
True Christian charity has the resilience to love the sinner and to forgive. God gives the sinner the mercy he needs, rather than the punishment he deserves. That’s the kind of love Jesus expects of us. And He gives us the perfect example on the cross when He asked His heavenly Father to forgive the very people who were responsible for His execution. Jesus certainly practiced what He taught us in the Beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.”
We are about to begin our Lenten preparations for the celebration of the death and resurrection of our savior. As we seek God’s mercy by confessing our sins, we should remember the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.‘ We have no right to seek God’s mercy if we are not prepared to forgive those who harm us. Showing mercy is the greatest expression of Christian love, the best response to those who harm us.
We could have no better Lenten resolution than to forgive when we’ve been hurt and apologize when we have caused pain. Let us all resolve to be what Paul calls ‘ministers of reconciliation’.