Sunday, February 19, 2017
A Challenge for Christians
G.K. Chesterton in his book What's Wrong with the World? made the statement, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not tried."
I thought of these words when I reflected on today's Gospel passage from Matthew 5:38-48. This is the section where we are told things like "turn the other cheek", and "love your enemies and pray for your persecutors." When is the last time that you or I tried out those practices? In so many ways Chesterton was right. Yes, there have been shining examples to the contrary. I think of St. Francis of Assisi, among others, who truly lived the Gospel, but the great majority of us have a long way to go.
Today's Gospel text is part of the Sermon on the Mount which is given in the entire fifth chapter of Matthew. It begins with the beatitudes and continues on with an invitation to a radically different way of living. Today's verses are not instructing us, by the way, to let people walk all over us. When properly understood they are an invitation to non-violent opposition to evil. They are ways of shaming an opponent. There is an marshal art called aikido. As Bishop Robert Barron explains in his meditation on today's Gospel, "The idea of aikido is to absorb the aggressive energy of your opponent, moving with it, continually frustrating him until he comes to the point of realizing that fighting is useless." A good example of this is in Jesus exhortation to walk two miles if someone asks you to walk one with him (or her). In Roman law one was required, under certain circumstances to accompany someone for one mile, perhaps to help carry a heavy load. By going beyond that the other person would start to think, "What's this guy up to?", and get frustrated.
Perhaps something we can all practice right away is the invitation to "love our enemies and pray for our persecutors." These days I see on social media so much hatred from both the left and right side of the political and ecclesiastical spectrum. To love our enemies, both personal ones and members of other religions, nations and groups, does not been to agree with them or to put up with evil attacks on us. It does mean that we understand that every human being is worthy of dignity and respect. In praying for them we may not pray that their attacks succeed, but perhaps pray for the healing of the violence and anger that is in them.
Lent is coming soon (March 1). Maybe for Lent we can pray for our enemies, big and small. Just maybe that will herald a deeper transformation in us.