The full text of the homily that I preached at St. Joseph’s Melkite Catholic Church, Fairfield VIC on 30/09/2012
The Gospel that we have just heard today comes from Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. While Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount is brief compared to the one in the Gospel of Matthew, the simplest overview of the Sermon on the Mount is this: an introduction to the kind of life that everyone who desires the Kingdom of God should be leading.
Based on Matthew’s account of the Sermon, and if we were to break the Sermon of the Mount down, we can break it down into 4 parts; namely:-
- The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-16)
- The New Covenant – which is the fulfilment of the Jewish Law of the Prophets (Matthew 5:17 – 48)
- Spiritual disciplines, which are giving alms, prayer, and fasting (Matthew 6:1 – 7:12)
- Exhortation to righteousness (to hear His words, and live by it) (Matthew 7:13 – 29)
Today’s Gospel falls under the section of the New Covenant. To briefly introduce the section which I call the “New Covenant”, Jesus reminds us that that He did not come to “destroy the Law … but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17 – 18). And the Law that He is calling us to live by, in its fullness, in today’s Gospel, is an ancient Jewish Law, which most of us know as the Golden Rule; which is “and as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31 – 36).
We would have heard this saying countless times, whether it be from today’s Gospel reading or from some other source. This saying is universal, and transcends all religions and cultures. However, the intended fulfilled meaning that Jesus wants us to accept is very different to what His contemporaries then understood. To the people of Jesus’ time, many of them were still confined to the 613 Jewish laws, and what they understood of the Golden Rule was very legalistic and may have sounded something like this: “don’t do any evil to anyone, and you won’t receive evil”. There are 2 elements of negativity to this; namely:-
- It made people very passive to reach out to others
- It made people very selective in who they chose to interact and form a relationship with i.e. “friendship” or “love” with benefits; which was not really love, but a means of selfishness and serving the ego.
But as Jesus puts it; He calls on us to treat others as we would like to be treated by them. However, just as it was back then, we are at the risk of misunderstanding this commandment; by doing good to others in the hope that they would respond with the same form of good, and in equal value to us. As the modern proverb goes, “I scratch your back, you scratch mine”. But Jesus points out to us that love must be freely given; even out to those who will respond with nothing; not even a simple “thank you”.
That is the first thing that Jesus commands us to do. With that, a second question arises: Who are these “other people” that Jesus talks about? Are they my friends, are they random strangers? Jesus clarifies this for us to include even our enemies – people who have exploited us, people who have offended us, insulted us, hurt us, or even those who have done the worst possible things unto us. From our human perspective, we can’t even think of associating with them; let alone love them. But this is exactly the command that Jesus calls us to follow: Love your enemies.
But the second question remains: How can I love my enemies when they are exactly that, my enemies? There is no easy “how-to” instruction manual on how to love my enemy, but Jesus is trying to stress yet another point: “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
And yet again, He startles us. But He has a point: Firstly, mercy is good, and there is only One that is good, which is God Himself. We will never reach the point of goodness that God only possesses, but through our Baptism, we share in that goodness, and we partake of that goodness. If we find it really difficult to love our enemies, we can find inspiration by sharing our Father’s spirit of mercy. A few signs of the Father’s spirit of mercy include:-
- We should never think of a person as lost, gone for good, or a write-off because of their actions and deeds
- We should always believe that a person is never entirely bad, and can change
If that is not good enough, or if that still leaves us doubtful; here’s another simple reminder: God first loved us, even though we are always at the risk of falling into sin. If God is always going to love sinners, and if God is always ready to open His arms to sinners, who are we to take God’s place and decide who we should or should not love, when we still commit sins ourselves to begin with?
Irrespective of whom it is, or the sin one has committed, the “image of God” is still present in all of us, and in our enemies. Perhaps the most important question here remains: How can the “image of God” in me, a sinner, meet the “image of God” in my enemy, a fellow sinner?
Through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to examine how we love our neighbours without expecting anything in return, and this includes our enemies. To deprive them of our love is to overlook our sinfulness, and to deny that we are equally in sin as the other. But there is a Light in all of that, as we are made in the image of likeness of God, and that He desires that we all share in His spirit of mercy.
As we prepare to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, let us ask Him, and also through the prayers of His all-pure Mother, to reconcile our “image of God” with the “image of God” with our enemies before receiving the Eucharist. Let us also exalt Him by saying this prayer, that is said silently by the priest before the end of our Liturgy.
PRAYER: You who are the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, Christ our God, who fulfilled the whole providential plan of the Father, fill our hearts with joy and gladness, at all times, now and always and for ever and ever.