LOVING BEYOND FRONTIERS AND BARRIERS
Readings: (1st: Lev 19, 1-2. 17-18; Ps 102, 1-4. 8-13; 2nd: 1Cor 3, 16-23; Gos: Matt 5:38-48)
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Today is the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year, A. The church turns our attention to this very important theological as well as cardinal virtue, Love. Today, we celebrate the Lord who himself is Love and at the same time its fullest manifestation. We cannot therefore celebrate the Lord of Love without resolving to be more like him; for we are built into him like stones into a temple erected to give glory to God. Although the term love has been widely spoken about, acted out in great and legendary epics like William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the word itself is very simple with just four alphabets, yet, in spite of all these it still appears to be one of the most difficult thing to live out. One simple truth that is clear is that it is easier to talk about it than to live it. Only one person has perfected it, and that is God who did it through the free gift of his beloved son: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son” (Jh 3, 16) and, “behold the manner of love with which God loved us that we should be called the sons of God” (1 Jh 3, 1-3). It was St. Augustine who once said: “Love and do whatever you wish to do.” In order words, love must be the fulcrum and the impetus agitat (the driving force) of our actions words, correction, admonitions, etcetera. Whatever is not done in, and out of love is as good as being a flatus vocis (empty effort) that can only bear ill-fruits. We are supposed to be, in a popular Yoruba parlance and name “Ile Ife” (house of love) from which love flows and is dispensed to others. This is what it actually means to be a disciple of Christ. That is, one who is capable of loving beyond the frontiers, barriers and encumbrances of life. Virtually, all the readings of this “Agapitos Sunday,” including the Psalm centers on love, a term which appears in the bible over a hundred times.
The first reading of today begins with the horizontal aspect of love. It focuses strongly on the need to one to love ones neighbor. It is worthy of note that it did not specify any condition that our neighbor has to meet before we could love him or her. This means that it has to be an unconditional type of love. In this reading, Moses tells us the best way to relate with one another and afterwards, he concluded with an imperative: “Love your neighbor as yourself!” It suffices to note that from this reading, that everything we are to do with or to our neighbor ranging from corrections, admonition, criticism, etcetera, are nothing but signs that we love our neighbor. However, one must do all these in love. Also, love will help us bear with the failings of the other. The Psalmist moves us a step further in the vertical direction by telling us that: “The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy…” Here, the Psalmist crafts together three important virtues: Love, Compassion and Mercy as attributes of God. These are what God showers on us and equally expects us as, “Ile Ife” (house of love to) dispense it unto our neighbors and those around us. In the second reading Paul exalts the Corinthians as well as we. He advances an argument in order to help us live as one family and people in love. In this reading, he reminds us that we are God’s temple. That is, the seat of love, better still the temple of love. Therefore we are not to temper with this temple because, we belong to Christ the owner of the temple.
In the gospel, Jesus the “Preventive Counselor” continues his teaching and discourse on the commands or laws of God. Today, he is in the domain of love. He takes love to another dimension and introduces a twist that seems difficult – not just loving ones neighbor but also loving ones enemy! He says: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Honestly, this is a hard teaching but by the grace of God it is possible as Paul tells us: “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me” (Phil 4, 13). Being able to do this irrespective of the difficulties is a mark of a true Christian. This is the reason Christ adds: “In this way you will be sons of your father in heaven.” Jesus knows the importance of love in the family, community and nation. That is why he spends much time stressing it. Loving, praying for, and forgiving one’s enemy is an extension of Jesus’ broader teaching about the perfection of God (5:48). In typical fashion, Jesus provides an intriguing image to capture the meaning of this quality of God, one that God’s followers should emulate.
Love unites, because it forgives, bears, corrects gently, is patience and tolerates (1Cor 13). A community lacking love never stands or progresses, like wise a family or nation that lacks Love. An individual who lacks love cannot love himself enough not to talk of extending it to the other. Jesus in today’s reading also condemns revenge but rather encourages endurance even in the face of oppression or persecution. Hence he says to us, “You have learnt how it was said: eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say to you: offer the wicked no resistance… if any one hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well…” Is Jesus discouraging us from self defense? No! Instead, he wishes that we endure the insult from our neighbours patiently. A few years ago Tiger Woods won the Masters Tournament. Instead of congratulating him, a “jealous” man called Fuzzy Zoeller responded with some mean, racist remarks which though he intended to be funny, but unfortunately was negative. For this unholy and demeaning comment, this man received a great deal of well deserved criticism from world press, but Tiger Woods’ response was, “We all make mistakes, and it’s time to move on.” Tiger Woods could have returned the insult but he refused to retaliate. Instead, he said, “Let’s move on.” How many of us would share Tiger Woods’ response? Is this our attitude when we bear the brunt of insults, castigation, persecutions, or even denial? Can you say, “We all make mistakes and it’s time to move on?” Jesus did not suggest tit for tat. He was not in the business of getting even. Instead, he preached love for our enemies and generosity towards them. Unfortunately, naturally we are vindictive. Vindictiveness will corrode and erode our heart. It will sour and grieve our spirit. We are very much unlike Jesus Christ who simply says to God on our account every day: “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” As soon as someone starts a rumor about us what do we do? We get on our high horse. Our backs arch like a cat. We show our fangs. We are ready to do battle and to revenge. If given a chance, we will hang their hide on the wall. We believe that we must defend ourselves and vindicate ourselves. When it came to this kind of thing, our Lord Jesus was not concerned about His reputation. We must graduate from the kindergarten spiritually, and enroll in Jesus’ college or tertiary spirituality. We must be willing to leave retaliation in God’s hands. This is not to imply that we are to be passive in your relationships. Jesus often confronted those around Him, but He was not vindictive. Jesus did not threaten His accusers with harm, but showed them love, because Love is the root of life!
Peace be with you!