We’re used to hearing this passage at the beginning of Lent, yet here we are in the midst of Ordinary Time. Perhaps it can be a reminder now, to take stock of our spiritual practices. Here Jesus is telling his followers, as he’s telling us today, to make an examination of our pieties and devotional practices. Do we do them so others may see our “holiness”? That would make them insincere and the only reward we would get would be the attention. But if we’re even willing to do them away from the eyes of others, in secret before God, we can trust their genuineness.
The truth is, all we need to worry about is what God sees in our hearts. God doesn’t care for us to go through religious motions with half-filled hearts, just as my wife wouldn’t appreciate insincere, hollow words or actions. Practices of love must always be for the building of the relationship, not the self.
What practices do you have that deepen your relationship with God?
I imagine that some people see me as an enemy.
I’ve hurt people. I’ve been a bully. I’ve broken hearts. I have the capacity to use people. I’ve robbed people of joy, I’ve dashed hopes, and I’ve caused people to question the sincerity of my love. I’ve asked for forgiveness and trust in God’s mercy, but still…
Jesus demands that we love those who have caused us pain. It can feel like an impossible task.
I wonder though, whether his commandment to love our enemies comes easier when I remember how desperately I need to be loved – even by those people who have good reason not to love me anymore.
It’s brave to ask for love, and everyone asks somehow. I can choose to love my enemies, because just like me, they deserve it too.
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was not encouragement to take revenge but was meant to put a limitation on one’s retaliation. We live in a world that calls on us to seek revenge and retaliation when we have been wronged, but Jesus calls us to a very different kind of response, one that requires great inner strength, self-respect and respect for the dignity of our attacker. He calls us to mercy and love.
We have more than enough evidence in our world of the never-ending cycle of hate, mistrust and violence. Not many ever seems to try Jesus response of mercy and love. G.K. Chesterton once said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. How different would the world be if we responded to hate, mistrust and violence with forgiveness and by doing a sacrificial good for that person? Jesus gave us the ultimate example of responding with love and mercy with his willingness to suffer and die on the cross for the sins of mankind.
Are you willing to respond with mercy and love next time you have been wronged? How can you start to move in that direction?
—Chris LaMothe teaches theology at Jesuit High School in New Orleans.
The Kingdom of God is like seeds that, once planted, grow on their own without human intervention. Our role is to plant the seeds and harvest the fruit but to leave the spiritual maturation to God. Like the birds who nest in the shade of the mustard bush, our role is simply to use the gifts God has already given us. It can be very easy to believe that we are responsible for our own successes. We sometimes lack the humility that comes from knowing that everything we have is a gift from God. But with that humility can also come great freedom as we increasingly rely on God’s power rather than our own.
How can I be more grateful in my life for my talents, my fortunes and my successes? Where do I need to ask for God’s grace in my life rather than continue to struggle on my own?
Jesus’ prohibition against oaths in today’s Gospel emphasizes our utter poverty in offering collateral to back up what we swear to do. The heavens and the earth, and even our own body, are ultimately only lent to us so that we, in the words of St. Ignatius Loyola, “may accomplish the end for which we are created” each day: to attain salvation and glorify God. The complete sacrifice of Elisha in the first reading today (1 Kgs 19:19-21) models how ready we ought to be to drop everything and watch it all go up in smoke when God calls us away from our paltry ways of doing things into his ever greater Way.
How can I say “yes” to God today? Lord Jesus, help me to mean it.
—Fr. Michael Wegenka, SJ, is a member of the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province. He was ordained to the priesthood last weekend. His first assignment as a priest will be at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Grand Coteau, La.
Elijah recognizes the voice of the Lord not in wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the tiniest of whispers. St Ignatius counseled that we, too, can hear the voice of God. God is present when we experience consolation, i.e., peace, joy, freedom, and connection to others. Those experiences of God’s communication are often gentle. I might admire the drawing my young child is making with sidewalk chalk and find that a sense of gratitude wells up in my heart. Or I might suddenly recognize that participating in a service project has led me to connect deeply with a community. In prayer, too, we need make space to listen to God, who often speaks with the simplest words, or leads us by subtle yet sensible interior movements. Today, can I make room to listen to God?
—Marina McCoy is an associate professor of philosophy at Boston College.
I’ve been following this young rabbi since he first came to Galilee. I go to hear him whenever I can, and everyone in the village is talking about him.
He talks a lot about love—love of God, love of neighbor. A few days ago he talked for a long time about how blessed it is to be poor in spirit, merciful and pure of heart.
But today he had a message that was in sharp contrast: if we don’t act out of love, we can expect to be punished! I was shocked at first, but then I realized: how can I claim to be merciful or pure of heart if I approach God while nursing grievances against my brother? How can I claim to “love my neighbor as myself” if I’m lashing out in anger?
Love is not abstract!
—Barbara Lee is a spiritual director, an Ignatian Volunteer, and the author of God Isn’t Finished With Me Yet: Discovering the Spiritual Graces of Later Life published by Loyola Press
Jesus wasn’t trying to start a new religion. Matthew is making it clear to his Jewish audience that the law and the prophets weren’t going away; Jesus was just interpreting them anew. Perhaps he was just trying to get us to listen to the law in our hearts!
As Christians we don’t adhere to the Mosaic law, but we’re still an audience of this Gospel text—albeit a contemporary one. And Jesus was clear when he said the entirety of the law boiled down to love of God and love of neighbor. After all, the law taught the Jews how to relate to God and to one another. That is something we can understand as 21st century Christians. For us Jesus becomes an embodiment of God’s law, exemplifying the love of God and neighbor. And as people for whom Christ is their name, we are called to embody this, too. Every day.
When I lived on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, I sometimes sat with with folks in addiction recovery and listened to them “admit to God, to themselves, and to another human being the exact nature of their wrongs.” It’s step five of AA and similar programs.
When they would speak, they would begin nervous and closed. Slowly, though, their posture would shift upright. Their eyes would soften in recalling painful memories. They would eventually find the strength to smile and leave with courage to carry on.
Jesus says that we are salt and light. We season the world with the fullness of our lives, the blessed and broken moments. If we serve as witnesses to the possibility of goodness in light of everything we’ve done, we can become a vehicle for others to witness God’s infinite love and mercy. In that, every life takes meaning and will shine forth.
We live in a world that promotes narcissism, domination and entitlement. If any entity in existence had the right to be narcissistic, dominating or entitled it would be God, but when he came in the incarnation of Jesus, he was none of these, rather he came in meekness and humbleness.
Most of our unhappiness is tied to the belief that we are better and more deserving than the next person and when we don’t get the good fortune we feel we are entitled to, we are unhappy. The truth is we are all children of God, loved by God.
To be meek or humble means to understand I am no better or worse than anyone else. That we are all sinners in need of mercy and salvation, and that is exactly what God offers every one of us, nothing more and nothing less. Everything else in this world can distract us from that fact or help us reach unity with our God.
Do I see myself as more worthy of the good things in life than others? Do I see the ups and downs of life as paths to deepening my unity with God?
—Chris LaMothe teaches theology at Jesuit High School in New Orleans.