Sunday Gospel Homily by Fr Elmer Ibarra SVD (Australia)
7th Sunday Ordinary Time
There’s this story about the US Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln was being briefed by his generals on the state of the war, his generals said to him, “In order to win this war, we must destroy our enemies.” The president replied, “I agree fully. We must destroy our enemies to win the war.” Then he added, “Let us make them our friends.”
In the gospel for today, Jesus was preaching to his disciples, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” If I were one of the disciples, I would be asking myself if I heard that right. For Jesus’ listeners, they must have been bewildered about what they have heard. They must have been asking themselves, “Did I heard that right? Did he really mean enemies or was he talking about something else?” But Jesus was clear, he did mean enemies and he emphasised it again and again and again.
Ever since humankind has begun, it has always been about what they call, “The Survival of the Fittest.” If there are two people who don’t agree, one may get hit with a stick only to come back later and bring a bigger stick. It has always been like that.
However, what Jesus is presenting here is something that is totally new. In the book of Genesis, the vengeance is set at sevenfold, “Whoever kills Cain will suffer sevenfold vengeance” (Genesis 4, 15). “Sevenfold vengeance for Cain, but seventy-sevenfold for Lamech.” Then during the time of Moses, the “Lex Talionis” replaced this or what is also known as the “Law of Retaliation”. Meaning the retaliation for an injury caused should be of equal value. This is where we get the saying “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” And for many people across the centuries they thought that this is just and right. Then Jesus came along and said, “Love your enemies.” Then everybody got stunned at this. Most of his listeners might be asking themselves, how could this be possible?
We as a people might be able to forgive notorious dictators and murderers in World History like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, Osama bin Laden, etc. However, could we forgive people who had actually did us harm? What about the hoon who rammed your car going to work this morning? What about the thief who stole your wallet? What about your ex-boyfriend who cheated on you? How about them? Could we forgive those and to love them as well?
If there’s one thing that Jesus would challenge us and we’ll find it very difficult and it is loving one’s enemies. Jesus did that many times and the most evident when Jesus was hanging on the cross. The first words that he said after being crucified was: “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus is imploring to his heavenly Father to grant mercy on those who are crucifying his only Son. That is how Jesus loves his enemies.
Of course, we can always howl that we are nowhere near Jesus and what he is asking is just a little bit too much. However, the duty to every Christian is to strive to be like Jesus as close as one can. This is the very reason why we receive the Body and Blood of Christ during mass because Jesus loves us so much that he wanted to become a part of us. Jesus wanted to enter every cell in our body so hopefully the holiness that Jesus has at least we could get it even if it is only a tiny fracture of it.
Loving ones enemies may not be the most pleasant of feelings. But for Jesus, love is not just about one’s feelings. It is about what we do and that is to be caring, to forgive, to be kind, to be generous, etc. And if we could overcome all ill-feelings that we have against our enemies and learn how to forgive and love them, then we are getting nearer to becoming like Jesus ourselves.