The Gospel of February 19th, 2017
Reflection: Repay in Kindness, Not Kind
Are all gospels created equally? I don’t know the answer to that, but I can tell you today’s gospel strikes me as hard as any that come to mind. Jesus challenges us to not only love our neighbor, but our enemies as well. He asks, “For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?” (46-47). This understanding of the commandment to love leaves no room for selfishness. For those us who struggle with perfectionism, this is difficult to accept. For it is another case in the gospel where it becomes clear we are being called to a state of holiness that is not possible to achieve without the help of the Lord. We are being called to participate in the mystical body of Christ by imitating Him.
In trying to understand the theological underpinnings of this teaching, I am going to defer to an expert this week. I recommend reviewing the two-minute video on the USCCB website by Father Greg Friedman dated February 19th. He conveys the joy in Jesus’ message much better than I can.
For my part I would like to end by sharing an experience I have written about before in this blog and connect it to this gospel. Last spring I visited the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. The experience of walking through the chronological progression of exhibits may be as close to a descent into Hell as I have undergone willingly in my life. As numbness took over in view of the scale of unmitigated evil the Nazis perpetrated in the systematic death of millions, a single thought occurred to me with unusual clarity: the only answer to this injustice is love. Civilized society cannot achieve justice by repaying the criminals, especially the ones guilty of the most horrendous crimes, in kind. When faced with an atrocity like the Holocaust any further taking of human lives seems monumentally inadequate. Instead the radical love of Jesus provides the only hope to give meaning to the lives lost. If we struggle to love and forgive our enemies in full understanding of their sins and our of sins—as Jesus did on the cross—we will finally know our Lord, who loves all His creation. His love will break the chains of sin in love so that we may experience true and eternal peace and joy in Him. And so we must keep trying.