Gospel Reflection Feb 20 – Deacon Don
Sunday, February 20
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 6: 27-38
Jesus said to his disciples:
“To you who hear I say,
love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who do good to you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners do the same.
If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners,
and get back the same amount.
But rather, love your enemies and do good to them,
and lend expecting nothing back;
then your reward will be great
and you will be children of the Most High,
for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give, and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”
In our contemporary culture and with an ingrained sense of nationalism, many of us are raised to be overwhelmingly self-sufficient, independent, and to expect that if we can see it, we can be it. While this makes for some good points to be hopeful and enthusiastic for our future individual prospects and keep our eye on the prize, we often lose sight of the fact that we will often not achieve all our goals. Further, we will be rejected by others who have their own individual views of personal utopia that differs and conflicts with ours.
While we can seek our own goals in life, we very often and perhaps unwittingly can undermine the goals of others around us. This can be a source of conflict with others around us. We see it today in world issues (e.g. Ukraine, Russia, China), in our country (e.g. pick most any topic from the news), at the borders (e.g. Ambassador Bridge, Mexican border), with our police (e.g. pick most any incident including Columbus), with our sports (e.g. Olympic conflicts, MLB, NFL, any number of topics), local politics (e.g. vaccination and mask mandates and school curriculum). We find ourselves being navigated into having to make choices from a list of generally only two extreme options. When this occurs, we watch from the sidelines as the powers on either side dictate the rules of play — usually using an old failed playbook of oppressor over the oppressed. The sources of that kind of power have an attraction for us — the power of money, prestige, political office, and association. In general, it can be seen as the ability to coerce others to do what I want.
However, the Gospel today speaks of another kind of power. It is the power of love and justice. This kind of power is not a zero-sum game where one only wins when the other loses, but the giver and receiver both benefit rather than the victor over the vanquished. Perhaps this Gospel today is hopelessly idealistic and out of sync with the times. When we examine the Gospel in a deeper and more reflective manner, we can see examples of those who exercise power in a manner where the outcome would yield a better place for all. Consider recent examples of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They were courageous in their peaceful dissent for a vision of the common good. They turned the other cheek but were not wimps as we might conclude from examining their approach for dissent. What the Gospel asks of us today is a similar form of turning the other cheek. Therein lies its power. These men did not submit to the tyranny of the majority or the tyranny of the minority. They exposed the basic fallacy of the misuse of power. Jesus is the source and the model of love showing the way without compromise or submission even to the powers of Israel or Rome.
For many of us, it seems perfectly natural and justifiable to simply hit back when struck – whether justified or not. When our perceived hero does it, it is called doing justice but when our perceived bad guy does it, it is called tyranny or worse. That judgment is not ours to assume. It requires a great deal more courage not to hit back, not out of fear but because by engaging in the same manner, we lower ourselves to the same level as our attacker. We respond to violence with more violence and then it continues…until there is no turning back from extreme measures. We see this in so many troubled spots of the world, our country, our Church, our community, our homes and even our families. It is a long failed playbook. Mahatma Gandhi once said there were many issues he was willing to die for, but there was no issue he was willing to kill for. So, it is with Jesus who throughout his Passion and death, he revealed to us this strength. He prayed for those who would scourge and kill him. Jesus’ kind of love differs from our understanding of being in love. It does not mean we need to “hang out” with those from whom we differ. It does mean that we are called to love all without the likely prospect of being loved by all in return. People wanted to kill Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King — and they did. Doesn’t seem like a desirable end. Perhaps it is enough for now to put aside our individualism, our egos, and our perceived perfect view of the way the world should be. We just might conclude that we may not have all the answers when we begin to engage in sincere and open dialog seeking the prospect of a common good. Somewhere along that path, we just might discover that we may not always have a right to our own individual goals.
Jesus is not offering us simply a way out of the cycle of self-destruction, but He does offer us the only option that makes us truly human. Jesus himself is the model. As we enter Lent and experience Jesus’ Passion once again — seeing him naked, stripped of all dignity, hanging on a tree as the victim of unspeakable violence, it is at this moment, contrary to all other appearances, the moment of his triumph. It is the triumph of love over hate, violence, and murder. It is offered to be our triumph too. It is a message that our hyper violence-ridden culture desperately needs to consider.
Deacon Don Poirier