Jesus is the visible manifestation of the invisible God. He taught us that God is love and anyone who dwells in love dwells in God. The core of the gospel message is the power of Christian love, to be exercised in mercy and unconditional forgiveness. On every action there is a choice and we should be able to make the right decisions that enable us to be pleasing in the sight of God. The right choices lead us to God, and the wrong ones break our relationship with Him and with one another. Last week we reflected on the beatitudes and today it spells out more concretely the way to translate them into our actions. It reverses the old practices of revenge and retaliation and to repay every evil with good through nonviolence. It contains four commands of Jesus: love, forgive, do good, and pray. They specify the kind of love that the Christian follower is expected to show toward an enemy. The ‘enemy’ is one who injures hates or rejects the Christian.
1) Love your enemies: This command proposes a course of action that is contrary to human nature. Jesus invites those who follow him to repudiate their natural inclinations and instead follow his example and the example of the heavenly Father. Jesus before the Sanhedrin: When Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews, he was struck on the face by a soldier and accused him of insolence. Jesus did not retaliate but simply asked, “If I have done something wrong, tell me; if not, why do you strike me?” He speaks calmly and with dignity, respecting the soldier’s dignity. It is a perfect example of active non-violence. Significantly, Jesus was not struck again. His restraint was seen for what it was: courage, not weakness. In the whole of his Passion Jesus reveals his strength. He prayed for those battering him to death. “I have not come for the death of the sinner but that he may be converted and live.” Revenge wants to destroy. Love wants to restore life, truth, justice and right relationships between people.
2) “Forgive and you will be forgiven. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” This message might have sounded very strange to the Jews, who were familiar with a God who was merciful to his own people and vengeful to their enemies, as pictured in Psalms 18, 72 and 92. But Jesus repeats his teaching on forgiveness, both in the prayer he taught his disciples “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” (Mt 6:9-13; Lk. 11:4), and in his final commandment to his apostles, “Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another” (Jn. 15:12). Another good reason for us to forgive our enemies is, “(so that everyone will know that we are disciples of the Most High” (Jn. 13:34-35). That is, Christianforgiveness can be a form of evangelization. Jesus does not advise his followers to overlook evils, wars, economic disparity, and exploitation of the vulnerable. Instead, we are called to forgive, to be merciful and not to retaliate. But we cannot achieve this level of love and forgiveness by ourselves. We need the power of God working through us by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus not only commanded us to love our enemies, he also gave us the most vivid and awesome example of this type of love in action. While hanging on the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
3) The Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Christian ethics consists not in merely refraining from evil, but in actively doing good, not only to those who are friends, but to those who hate us or do evil against us. In other words, Jesus expects us to rise above our human instincts and imitate the goodness and generosity of God. The observance of the golden rule makes us like God whose love and mercy embrace saints and sinners alike. At the same time the Golden Rule does not require that we allow others to take advantage of us.
4) Invitation to grace-filled behavior: What makes Christianity distinct from any other religion is the quality known as grace, i.e., God’s own life working in us, so that we are able to treat others, not as they deserve but with love, kindness and mercy. God is good to the unjust as well as to the just. Hence our love for others, even those who are ungrateful and selfish towards us, must be marked by the same kindness and mercy, which God has shown to us. When we pray for those who do us wrong, we break the power of hate in ourselves and in others and release the power of love. How can we possibly love those who cause us harm? God gives the necessary power and grace to those who believe and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit. His love conquers our hurts, fears, prejudices and grief. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can free us from the tyranny of malice, hatred, revenge, and resentment, and give us the courage to return good for evil.
The radical call to forgiveness, love and mercy points to the extraordinary character of Jesus who addresses this challenge to us. He invites us to this radical expression of God’s benevolence and compassion will also give us the grace and inner strength to be radically loving and forgiving. Trusting in the grace of God, the Christian disciple who is called to be radically loving, radically generous and radically God-like is able to say: “In him who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everything” (Phil 4:13).