Today we are given the opportunity to meditate on the golden rules of the kingdom of God.
Each sentence in this gospel is rich and need to be meditated. I would like to meditate only on the first sentence, “Love your enemies”.
What does it mean? How can we love someone who hurts us? If this is the golden rule of Jesus, is it necessary to be a Christian? Everyone might have thought of these at least once in their life.
The first thing to understand is that our comprehension of love is different from the word used by Jesus. The word “love”, in our comprehension, is wrapped up with our emotions, passions, and feelings toward another person. So, when we say we love someone, we mean that we have “good feelings” towards someone. It isn’t just that we want good things for that person, but that person makes us happy too, makes us feel good about ourselves. We delight in their presence. We delight in their company. So there tends to be an emphasis on the feeling when we talk about love.
But Jesus isn’t using the word “love” in the way that we would use it with the primary emphasis on a connotation of feelings. The Greek word for love Jesus uses here is “agapae”. It connotes unconditional, total and sacrificial love. It’s the kind of love that always wills something good for the other that God shows towards us. The ultimate form we see in calvary. Man is also created to manifest this love. The first sin was the fruit of the lack of such sacrificial love on the part of Adam. It is a kind of love that we find even in nature. Trees provide shade, even to those who cut them down. Likewise, flowers provide their perfume even to those who harvest them. Similarly, we are called to give our love to those who hurt us.
So Jesus’ emphasis of love falls on how we want to love and the actions that would express that love. First, “loving my enemies” entails good actions. That means, even though they hate us, we don’t return “eye for an eye” or “tooth for a tooth”, but we return it with good action. So the first way we show love for our enemies is to do good to them. It doesn’t say anything about feelings. The emphasis is on actions here.
The best example we can find in the first reading (1 Sam 26). Saul, the leader of God’s people, had wrongfully turned on David and attempted to kill him motivated by jealousy and fear. David fled from Saul, but Saul pursued with troops. On the occasion recounted in this reading, David snuck into Saul’s camp at night and found himself with the opportunity to assassinate Saul. Indeed this was tempting and may have looked like a providential opportunity to David. Hadn’t God put all the soldiers into a deep sleep so that David could dispatch his enemy? Wouldn’t it be better to end Saul’s reign now and let the righteous David begin his reign? But David refused to slay Saul. That is the first thing: do good to your enemies.
The second thing, if someone curses us, we are to bless them. Loving is not just to do good towards somebody, but also to speak good to somebody. If someone curses me, they speak evil against me (that’s what a curse is). So to bless is to verbalize a desire for good upon the person. That’s the second way to show them that I love them.
A third way, and I think this one is crucial, “pray for those who hurt you.” It is crucial because the other two (the blessing and the good actions) imply a certain amount of interaction, but prayer must happen in our hearts.
Many times people ask how I can love this person who hurt me? I don’t even want to be in their presence. Or it’s dangerous for me to be in their presence. Even if we don’t come into contact with someone who’s an enemy, or who hates us, or hurts us, we can always pray for them. The prayer is for God to bless that person. We’re asking for good to be done to someone who wishes harm to us; that is, loving your enemies.
It’s not going to come naturally to us to say, “I will dedicate an hour of prayer for that person who hates me or I’m going to say a rosary for this person who betrayed me or stole my job or hurt my family or whatever it might be”. Hence, prayer is an expression of love. Because “agapae” in its deepest sense is a kind of love that “will the good of another” or acts in such a way that brings good to the other. It is not primarily rooted in “emotions” but the “will”, in our choices: doing good, saying good, and praying for our enemies. These are the three concrete actions that Jesus proposes to us in the relationship with enemies.
It’s something unexpected and surprising. It seems irrational because it’s not operating according to the logic of this world. It’s the logic of the kingdom of God. It is the logic of the kingdom of God, the logic of the Son of God who came into this world to be persecuted, struck on the cheek in his Passion and not to fight back. Jesus who came into this world, who is rich, but became poor for our sake so that we might be saved. He gives to everyone His life, even for those who reject him. It is the logic of the kingdom, and it is the logic of the cross. This is what Jesus speaks of with “love your enemies”.
It is supernatural love and supernatural virtue. We often say, “we should be able to go to heaven, we are good persons, we didn’t kill anybody, we do good, we try to love people, we try to love our neighbours”, etc. That’s all good, but in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is not calling us to purely natural virtue. We see natural virtues on display throughout all human cultures. We see natural virtues on display outside of the Church (for sure) in the lives of human beings who are “made good” (made in the image and likeness of God, even though they’re sinful, they’re not completely deprived). We’ll see all kinds of natural virtues operative in them. But Jesus is calling us to much more than just natural virtue. He is calling us to supernatural virtues.
For this, we need Church and sacraments- to love as God loves. In order to transmit His love to others. We need to become like God if we want to love as God loves. How can we become like God? Through sacraments. Primarily through the sacrament of Eucharist, through which we share His life. In the sacrament of Baptism, we receive God’s supernatural life, and through the sacrament of eucharist, we maintain the supernatural life. So let us rectify our dispositions and cooperate with the grace we receive in the sacraments so that it may fully work in us.