1st Saturday of Lent
“Love your enemies.” Surely this is one of the most puzzling and difficult of Jesus’ sayings. At least part of what it means can be understood in relation to two other commands: “Do not resist an evil-doer,” and “Turn the other cheek.” Here the idea is not to react in kind, not to imitate the evil desire of the one who attacks us.
The Father makes his rain fall and sun shine regardless—his actions are not dictated by whether people are good or bad, just or unjust. Inwardly, our ‘enemies’ are the passions, those addictions and compulsions that undermine our freedom. The challenge is not to respond to passion with passion. Not to get angry at our anger or anxious about being anxious. Jesus teaches that we need instead to change the paradigm, not accept the terms of combat the enemy proposes; we must respond to passion with freedom and deliberation.
Outwardly, when the ‘enemy’ is another person—the tendency to react to attacks in kind is deeply ingrained… but profoundly unfree. Such reaction merely rebounds from the hostility of the other and his own slavery to rage. Jesus opens a new way in which our actions flow freely from the wellspring of divine love and not from the passions (our own or those of others). We may feel an impulse to revenge but can choose to act otherwise.
Divine love is generative, not reactive, creative not derivative. The Father’s universal compassion works for the true good of all and springs from his own boundless goodness. He is not kind one moment then angry the next based on whether we are good—that’s human love, passionate and limited.
Jesus invites and empowers us by grace to be ‘perfect as the Father is perfect’ as the father in the parable is perfect: Despite the ingratitude and wastefulness of his younger son he runs to meet him while a long way off; despite the stingy self-righteousness of the elder he goes out to meet him, too, calls him “My son” and assures him that all that he has belongs to him…
The banquet of the Eucharist is spread before us this morning—Jesus calls us to be perfect like the father, to reconcile the younger and the elder brother in our hearts…
…not to bristle with indignation when our brother is puerile and self-indulgent; not to rebel and act out when we feel judged by our brother… Instead, ‘perfection’ is to let our lives and actions flow from the boundless spring of the Father’s love.