The Holy Trinity, Cathedral of Our Lady, Chartres, France.
Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.
[Jesus said], So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48.
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In some ways today’s gospel touches the Christian heart like no other: Love Your Enemies. Jesus prayed for his enemies who had brutally nailed his body to a cross of wood. The ultimate forgiveness you might think. Now carry that over to 2023. Must Ukraine forgive Russia for invading it without any provocation at all, raping her daughters, and showering it with killer drones and missiles? I grew up in a London covered in bombed sites, witness to a battle of life and death; should England have forgiven Germany for invading Poland instead of declaring war on it? Questions such as these have tortured Christian scholars for centuries. What is the true Christian reaction to such utterly evil aggression? Well, don’t count on me to give a neat answer, because I cannot. The traditional answer is that self-defense is acceptable in the eyes of the Lord, and Christian nations have acted on that teaching for centuries. But Jesus did not choose that way out of his situation despite possessing the power of God Almighty. Indeed, the jeering crowd actually challenged him to do exactly that, but he did not. Neither should we, Jesus states clearly and unequivocally. No ifs, buts or maybes. Christian pacifists have done that down the centuries, and some Christian communities have accepted that teaching totally. The Society of Friends, the Quakers, believe that war and conflict are against God’s wishes and so they are dedicated to pacifism and non-violence; they go on to say that war always produces more problems than solutions, and they might be right. Certainly Jesus’ teaching would insist on trying every conceivable way of avoiding bloodshed, and the traditional way of reconciling this with pacifism is to let the other party strike the first blow. That was certainly the case with World War II, with Germany’s unprovoked invasion of Poland, and Japan’s unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor, both done in full knowledge of the likely consequences. But then there is the example of India’s fight for independence from Britain. That was done through civil disobedience and non-violent resistance as modeled by Gandhi. And it worked! One wonders if that would ever have been successful against brutal Nazi and communist fanatics.
Well considering what happened to the Lord, following his own teaching gave way to some terrible consequences for him. He followed his own teachings explicitly. He turned the other cheek to those who slapped him and tore his beard. He always responded positively to those who wanted to be cured or cleansed, and of course, he prayed for those who crucified him. Not for him “Do as I say, not as I do”. He did exactly what he taught. And I recall several films where the hero resists all provocations to lose his temper and hit back at his persecutors but I also remember the cheers when at last be gives way and slams into his enemies and wins, of course. But then there is this movie example of loving the enemy. But perhaps a really stunning example of loving one’s enemy in real life was the Amish reaction to the horrendous murdering of Amish schoolchildren in 2006; please read it and see if you can understand and agree with what those bereaved people did. So it can be done, but it does take a deep, deep trust in the Lord’s teaching and his promise to be with us always until the end of time (Matthew 28:20), no matter the situation. So ultimately it is up to each individual how s/he responds to certain situations. We know what is expected of us by God; we know that if we react the wrong way, we will plague ourselves with it afterwards knowing that we failed. And of course we know the right way, the one where we help our neighbor no matter the situation. God give us clarity and above all, strength, to deal with that challenge in the way we know God wants us to. Then we will have been true children of God. Here are some movie clips which are reflections on Our Lord’s challenging teaching today.
Forgiveness, Nelson Mandela, Dancing Gecko.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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