Both Matthew and Luke have their own account of the Beatitudes. In both cases the Beatitudes are the beginning of a longer “sermon” (one on the Mount, the other on the Plain.) The second part of the sermon goes into what sounds like directions. I always thought it was direction about how to be a disciple of Jesus, only to realize there is nothing strictly religious about the advice Jesus gives: it really is about “good living.” Jesus tells us how to live in peace with the universe—it is advice that even people of no faith should follow.
Distilling the gospel, this is what Jesus says:
- Love your enemy—and do not take revenge.
- Give—without expecting anything in return.
- Do to others what you would like them to do to you (treat people with the decency with which you would like to be treated.)
- Stop judging/condemning.
While I believe our salvation is at stake in the area of how we treat others, there is nothing particularly religious in this advice. Even the one which sounds more “churchy,” forgiveness, is really about letting go of negative feelings about those who hurt us. Nothing religious about that. Forgiveness, like the rest of this life-advice, is “good for you.” It may make life better for others around you, but it surely makes life better for you.
Before we go any further, let me say a bit about all of these pieces. When we discuss the “enemy” people often tell me they do not have any. At the very least, I believe that if we take our vocations seriously, it is difficult not to have enemies. If you stand for justice in any issue at all, some will become our enemies. We cannot stand for something and keep all those around us happy and nice. Jesus says, do not let your enemies get to you. Let go of negative feelings that only have a negative effect on you. Like forgiveness: if you do not forgive, it is you who gets the negative effect, not the other person. To hold grudges and not let go is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. And stop judging because really, you often do not know what the other person is going through, and you are spending energies on something about which you have no say. Again, all these pieces of advice are really good for you.
As you may know by now, I like to incorporate into my homilies—my faith life, really—stuff that I find useful from other areas of life. This past week I stumbled upon a book called, “The Alter Ego Effect” by personal coach Todd Herman. The blurb for the book explains the concept pretty well: “A top performance expert reveals the secret behind many top athletes and executives: creating a heroic alter ego to activate when the chips are down.” According to the author, there is only one person standing in the way of untapping your own potential: You. That person, your alter ego, is already inside us; it is already part of us, and we only need to unlock him/her. We only need to bring that better version of ourselves up to the surface.
Here we are not talking about peak performance for sure, but the idea of an alter ego who is already inside ourselves is extremely attractive to me. What about looking for that alter ego that would live according to the advice Jesus gives us in this gospel? We certainly know that we can choose to be the opposite of what Jesus advises. We all know people who hold grudges forever, who are always complaining, who are always speaking badly about others, who seem to keep track of everything the universe owes them, who require some kind of payment each time they decide to do something good—and it is not about monetary compensation: it could be a thank you note, a public recognition, etc.
But the positive alter ego is also there: a person who forgives, treats others with decency, spends no time in keeping track of everything good he or she does, etc. If I understand the concept well, I believe it is mainly about choosing to be this “alter ego,” making the decision to present ourselves like that person who is a bit more forgiving and kind that we are, and who is already within ourselves. We just need to be intentional about bringing that person out to the surface. Like any other habit, I am pretty sure it gets easier with time.