Today’s Gospel is unsettling. Jesus asks much of us, and today it seems he may try our Christian efforts beyond what we can usually cope with.
It isn’t difficult to somehow circumnavigate the living-out of this passage. It can be excruciatingly hard to let ourselves be buffeted by the unpleasantness of others. We tend to fight it with the same talk, going into the defensive and giving as good as we get.
However, if ever there were a ‘pinup’ Gospel passage to convey the true identity of Jesus, it is today’s Gospel. It would be a good idea to take these words to heart this week, to say them slowly, prayerfully in a quiet place each morning. It will, please God, be like looking through a kind of kaleidoscope. In the simplicity of Jesus’s words, and in their directness, we see not only the bare humility of the nativity but the pain of the Cross. And through those, we see our own fragility, our own pain. We may then begin to see how, even if we cannot follow these words with our own efforts alone, we may do so through the example and grace of God who, in a gift whose strength we cannot begin to comprehend, gave his son for us in the ultimate act of humility and love.
What then, will our ultimate strength be, as humans, other than the humilty that Christ is pointing us to? We don’t quite seem to get it, and neither did the disciples. We, like them, misunderstand and fail. We think that Christ us talking figuratively or in riddles. But no: he is asking us, directly, to love on the level that he loves, and to live inside the humility that he gave us as his example.
We are approaching the season of Lent. And today we are presented with a Gospel passage to carry throughout the season. So, let us, with his grace, better grasp the nature of God’s love, and begin to be the Christians we are called to be.
A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew (5:38-48)
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.
But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.
‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy.
But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not?
You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
The Gospel of the Lord
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.