For the last two Sundays we have continued reading from the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes and their contrast with the Commandments are the framework to understand the five practical applications that Jesus offers to his disciples (of then and now.) These applications are a warning against the legalistic approach in matters of faith -especially in how it affects relationships.
From the gospel of the 6th Sunday in Ordinary time, we got:
- Do not swear (in the sense of making an oath): We do not need a rule to tell us that anything that comes out of our mouths should be the truth.
- Using the example of adultery, Jesus tells us not to focus on the ultimate commission of an evil act. Jesus looks at the intention, at what is in our hearts and minds well before the evil act is committed. It is a focus on what in classic moral theology we have always called the “near occasion of sin.” Also, we do admit at every Mass that we may have sinned “in our thoughts.”
- The “You shall not kill” of the Commandments is a very low standard. Most of us are not in the habit of killing people. But we are in the habit of harboring negative thoughts about people.
From the gospel of the 7th Sunday in Ordinary time we got two more practical applications:
- No more “eye for an eye”: A cancellation of a legal principle, prominent in ancient societies, including Jesus’, that when you were a victim of an offense, you were justified in replying with the same amount of violence. It is known as the Law of the Talion, from the Latin talio which means equal—the origin of the English word retaliation.
- And lastly, perhaps the most original challenge issued by Jesus, love the enemy. We are asked not only to love the neighbor, the stranger, the foreigner, the poor…but also those who are our “enemies.”
Let us say a bit more about that one. It begs the question: Do you have enemies? We struggle with the question, don’t we? Enemy is a strong word. But it has also been said that perhaps we do not have enemies because we do not stand up for anything, we do not take sides for anybody (of course, there is a Churchill’s that says just that.) We are very polite and we prefer peace at any price (even if the price may be too high sometimes.) Jesus had enemies. If the word is still too hard, try “difficult people.” We all recognize difficult people in our lives.
If nothing else is possible, at least pray for them (I read this week that Jesus does not say that we have to like the enemy, just love them.) Do not harbor evil thoughts against anybody, as it simply not good for you. But perhaps, in some cases, something else can be done. Perhaps we can still reach out to the person in the past who became an enemy, a difficult person, who may not even be part of our lives anymore. Perhaps some relationships can be restored. Perhaps the issue that broke up a relationship has become a petty thing of years past and it is time to reconcile. It is not always possible, but sometimes it may be.