A friend said that when she was a girl she heard today’s Gospel
in church and thought, "That’s awfully hard! But no one does it in
my church so I don’t have to do it." If ever I were tempted to
change the Gospel reading, this would be one of those Sundays I
would give in and look for an easier one. (Actually, there are no
"easy" passages, but some seem to require less of a gut-wrenching
struggle for the preacher.)
In the Brooklyn neighborhood where I grew up this Gospel flies in
the face of the behavior we learned from earliest childhood. You
would be laughed to scorn if you suggested, "love you enemies, do
good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for
those who mistreat you." And, of course, no would have suggested,
"turn the other cheek." Even if it were noted, "Jesus said it,"
someone wold surely have retorted, "Yeah, well that was back then,
this is now." Or, "Well he could do it because he was God, he can’t
expect us mere humans to do that." And since it was Brooklyn, some
kid would certainly have added, "Whada ya nutz?"
You can see why this preacher would be tempted to find another
reading. Who wouldn’t? There are just too many innocent people
suffering at the hands of tyrants in the world to make this passage
acceptable at first glance. Maybe we would be "nutz" to take it
seriously. But then again, considering the condition of our world,
nothing else seems to be working. Let’s not dismiss this passage too
handily. Let’s give it a chance to speak its liberating message to
Jesus is asking a lot, a whole lot! It’s perfectly clear that he
isn’t just presenting a slightly improved way to live, an ethical
code a notch or two above other such codes. He’ not just proposing a
way of behaving that good people, with extra effort, might try. "Be
just a bit kinder...bite your lip and forgive one more time...." If
he were doing that, we wouldn’t need him, we could, with effort,
manage it on our own and then collect our hard earned reward from
Jesus is introducing something entirely new. Not just a new code
of ethics; but a whole new age with an entirely new way to live with
one another. Those who enter this "new way," this new reign, find
themselves animated by a different Spirit. Their whole lives are
changed, down to the very core. They now look at life through a
different lens. What seems so contrary to ordinary human wisdom, now
comes, as if, by second nature, for the citizen of God’s dominion.
The members of the reign whose presence Jesus announces, see
themselves and others, by the light Jesus has introduced into the
I don’t look upon Jesus’ teachings as things I must do to please
God, to earn merit, or to get to heaven. Rather, I first believe
that he has done something radically new in my life, as a result, a
new life in me urges and motivates me to an entirely new way to
live. It is because I have this new life that I can receive these
teachings as a guide to another way of interpreting my life and the
life of those around me. Through my Gospel eyes and ears I take in
the world differently and I respond to it differently. When wronged
I try to respond in a way that reflects Jesus’ ongoing presence
living in me. I know that I cannot continue to act and react as
everyone else does. That would mean Jesus is dead, that his
resurrection never took place and that his Spirit does not live in
the world. Rather, the life he lived has become a possibility for me
too. What would seem impossible behavior, based on the usual human
reckoning, now is possible. Now it is possible to love and forgive
in the way Jesus did.
The most difficult part of Jesus’ teaching is to consider its
consequences for those who have suffered abuse, who have been
victimized. Some people might misinterpret Jesus and hear him saying
that they are to remain victims and suffer abuse. Jesus isn’t
telling us to be victims. (I am helped in interpreting this passage
by the insights of Fred Craddock and Robert Schreiter, C.PP.S.).
Craddock reminds us that the people to whom Jesus is speaking are
the most poor, victims of abusive Roman power and wealthy land
owners. He suggests Jesus’ teachings are about how not to be a
In verses 27-31 Jesus is saying: take charge of your life and the
situation, by taking the initiative in loving, caring and giving.
The second section of this passage (32-36) is like the first,
telling us not to reciprocate. But where the former was applied
towards those who mistreat us, this section is applied to those who
treat us favorably. In both cases, our behavior is not determined by
either a friend or an enemy. We act the way we do because of the God
we worship ("be merciful as your Father is merciful"). God does not
hold back forgiveness from those who have previously not been
friends with God. Nor does God treat harshly those who have not
previously loved God. Our norm is God – not society. If God is the
criteria for our behavior, then how dependent we are on God’s
graciousness to help us fulfill this teaching!
The third section (verses 32-36) underlines just how generous God
has been to us – "a good measure, packed together, shaken down and
overflowing will be poured into you lap." This verse seems to
overflow and dominate the last one that speaks of getting back to
the extent that we give others. God is busy at work, transforming
and encouraging us to be to others what God has been to us. Jesus
doesn’t allow us to draw a circle around family, friends and good
neighbors, placing only them under the umbrella of our love. He
won’t let us be the determinant of who is "deserving" of our
beneficence. He bursts through our categories and beyond our natural
inclinations to love and enables us to reflect the divine presence
at work in us.
In addressing the case of victims, Robert Schrieter says, "...
God initiates the work of reconciliation in the lives of the
victims." Ordinarily we would expect reconciliation to begin with
the repentance of the wrongdoers. But experience shows that
wrongdoers are rarely willing to acknowledge what they have done or
to come forward of their own accord. If reconciliation depended
entirely upon the wrongdoers’ initiative, there would be next to no
reconciliation at all.
God begins with the victim, restoring to the victim the humanity
which the wrongdoer has tried to wrest away or to destroy. This
restoration of humanity might be considered the very heart or
reconciliation. The experience of reconciliation is the experience
of grace – the restoration of ones’ damaged humanity in a
life-giving relationship with God (Gen 1:26). It is that image by
which humanity might mirror divinity, by which humanity comes into
communion with divinity, that is restored. That God would begin with
the victim, and not the evildoer, is consistent with divine activity
in history. God takes the side of the poor, the widowed and the
orphaned, the oppressed and the imprisoned. It is in the ultimate
victim, God’s son Jesus Christ, that God begins the process that
least to the reconciliation of the whole world in Christ (Col;
1:20)" (cf below, pages 14-15).
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
ONE GOOD BOOK FOR THE
Schrieter, C.PP.S. THE MINISTRY OF
RECONCILIATION: SPIRITUALITY & STRATEGIES. Orbis
Books: Maryknoll, New York, 1998 (paper, 136 pages).
Schrieter presents a spirituality of both individual and
social reconciliation based on Jesus’ resurrection. He
shows how, with a spirituality of reconciliation, we can
then create an environment for reconciliation to help us
deal with violence in society, our neighborhoods and
delivered your enemy into your grasp this day.
Sometimes the need for revenge gets the better of
our higher angels but not in today’s first reading. Saul had tried
to kill David on several occasions. However, David, perhaps sensing
Saul’s change of personality over the years to something we would
call today, psychotic, refuses to put him to death. It is in this
light, that we examine the new revision to the Church’s teaching on
the death penalty and human dignity.
This past August 1, 2018, Pope Francis approved a
new revision of paragraph number 2267 of the Catechism of the
Catholic Church, according to which "a new understanding has emerged
of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state, thus
"the death penalty is inadmissible." On many occasions, Pope John
Paul II intervened for the elimination of capital punishment
describing it as "cruel and unnecessary" and Pope Benedict XVI
appealed for "the attention of society’s leaders to the need to make
every effort to eliminate the death penalty."
The Catechism text as revised reads as follows:
2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the
part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long
considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes
and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common
Today, however, there is an increasing awareness
that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission
of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged
of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly,
more effective systems of detention have been developed, which
ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not
definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of
the Gospel, that "the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an
attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person" and she
works with determination for its abolition worldwide.
 FRANCIS, Address to Participants in the
Meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the
New Evangelization, 11 October 2017: L’Osservatore Romano, 13
As today’s responsorial psalm states, "God
redeems life from destruction."
Barbara Molinari Quinby,
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
I am certain that Jesus understood the difficulty inherent in the
act of loving one’s enemy. He never joined the ranks of those who
talk glibly about the easiness of the moral life. He realized that
every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total
surrender to God. So when Jesus said, "Love your enemy," he was not
unmindful of its stringent qualities. Yet he meant every word of it.
Our responsibility as Christians is to discover the meaning of this
command and seek passionately to live it our in our daily lives.
Let us be practical and ask the question, How do we love our
First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He
[sic] who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power
to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s
enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over
again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us. It is
also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be
initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some
great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber
of some terrible act of oppression. The wrongdoer may request
forgiveness. He may come to himself, and , like the prodigal son,
move up some dusty road, his heart palpitating with the desire for
forgiveness. But only the injured neighbor, the loving father back
home, can really pour out the warm water of forgiveness.
----Martin Luther King, Jr., quoted in RICHER FARE:
REFLECTION ON THE SUNDAY READINGS, Gail Ramshaw, pages 161-2.
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
"Be merciful just as your Father is merciful"
Our behavior is not determined by either a friend, or an enemy.
We act the way we do because of the God we worship. God does not
hold back forgiveness from those who have previously not been
friends with God. Nor does God treat harshly those who have not
previously loved God. Our norm is God – not society.
So, we ask ourselves:
- To whom do I find it most difficult to extend forgiveness?
- What group of people have I found offensive and ignored?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an
inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form
it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Randy Atkins #0012311 (On death row since 12/8/93)
- Frank Chambers #0071799 (3/10/94)
- William L Barnes #0020590 (3/19/94)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
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