Stories of the Life and Passion of Christ, Ferrari 1513, Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Varallo Sesia, Italy.
[Jesus said] …. 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. Luke 6:35.
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I did a search for the term “Counsel of Perfection” and the picture above came up among the many other responses. Why “Counsel of Perfection”? Well, look at today’s gospel: Lend expecting nothing back; to the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well; from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic; from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back; love your enemies and do good to them; 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. The weary eye of the city dweller today might well wonder at such teachings. Those who have been beaten up and left to die might question them. The person, on returning home and finding it burgled and trashed might well respond in a somewhat different way. The victim of ransomware could possibly react contrary to Jesus’ instructions. Hence my search. Yes, we are to forgive those who hurt us in whatever way, but….. Then I looked at the picture above from the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. It shows, among other things, the passion of the Lord in all its details, including the cup offered by the angel from which he did not want to drink (Matthew 26:39), but he did drink. He uttered not one word of condemnation, rebuke, hatred or injury; indeed, he forgave those who tortured him (Luke 23:34). He is the living embodiment of the counsel of perfection, living as he had always lived, speaking as he had always spoken, reacting as he had always reacted. Though utterly innocent of all charges against him, he seemed to have acquiesced to everything that came his way, not fighting or defending himself at all, save in argument. In that one defensive area, he was absolute. But that does not make for a good Hollywood movie at all; indeed, such a script would be thrown out. Then why do we all, wise to the evil ways of the world, and sorely tempted to become involved with them and follow those evil ways of the world, yet still revere this man’s challenging, countercultural words? As Anna’s Siamese king says in the musical, “Is a puzzlement”.
Is it true that deep down we all want to be good? To many people, I suspect the answer is “yes”, even supported by an experimental basis, it seems. The church teaches that we are all naturally inclined to the good but tempted by the bad. Things have not changed since our choices in the Garden of Eden! Even there, Adam and Eve wanted to be “like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4) but they unhappily disobeyed God’s command and brought disaster on themselves. So disobedience of God’s law and focus on oneself to the rejection of all else is the source of all misery and disaster, according to Scripture. Considering that, Jesus’ teaching is the mirror opposite, the absolute focus on God and the other person, even to the debasement of self. There is a logic here. If disaster is the consequence of denying God’s law, then the absolute adoption of it must the the way to God, to heaven, to eternal happiness. So the logic of the world, turned upside down by Jesus’ teaching today, must, in God’s eyes, be the road to ruin, and the complete acceptance of God’s law, the way to eternal life. We children of God must be utterly generous, utterly forgiving, utterly loving throughout our lives. That was the way Jesus lived his life, and he has given us the perfect model with what to do with ours.
Not easy! But who said that living the good life full of grace would be easy? Not Jesus. Look at what happened to him! But that is where total acceptance and dependence on God’s will becomes paramount. We know from today’s teaching what is the absolute road to perfection, whether we adopt it or not. We cannot say, after today’s gospel, that we did not know what was expected of us. So perhaps what Jesus wants of us is to set his teaching as the goal to perfection, to attain it step by step, and gradually, through hope, prayer, bravery and generosity, become like him in all we do and say. The goal is set, the road clear. All we need is the encouragement and strength which only comes from the Lord. In that way, to echo the second reading today, we shall bear the image of the heavenly one, and be welcomed when we are called from this life, as a true child of God.
The Freedom of the Children of God; The HenrI Nouwen Society.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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