Last weekend I had the privilege of delivering the homily for the parishioners of St. Matthew's Church in Voorheesville NY. The passage from Matthew is a continuation of the readings taken from the Sermon on the Mount. I just wanted to share a few of the thoughts I shared with the folks in Voorheesville.
Jesus gives us two very difficult challenges in this passage. He says: You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil....You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.... This is a difficult challenge for us. When someone has hurt us - especially if they have hurt us badly - our first reaction may be to "get even." "I'd like to do to that person what s/he has done to me!" Yet Jesus tells us not to do this. I am reminded of the scene in the musical Fiddler on the Roof when some of his neighbors tell Tevye that he should strike out against the recriminations being felt by the Jews in the community. They remind him of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." He tells them that if everyone followed this way of thinking "soon the whole world will be blind and toothless."
Loving our enemies or those who have offended us many times requires forgiveness by us. Forgiveness doesn't come easy but we are called to it. Is there someone in our life who needs to be forgiven?
The other challenge Jesus presents is very difficult indeed. He says: So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." Lord Jesus, can you give us a break here? We are weak and sinful creatures. How can we aspire to be perfect? We cannot do it without help, the help we can receive from the Holy Spirit to guide us in the way of perfection and by faithful attendance at Eucharist where we can be nourished with the very body and blood of Jesus to give us the strength we need to persevere as we try to lead a more perfect life.
No, it does not come easy. We need to pray for the help we need. Perhaps we can use the words of an ancient Christian prayer:
Dear Lord, do not think of the sins we have committed or of those we still commit. Put out of your mind the failings we give way to night and day. Do not impute our offenses to us, whether we did them on purpose of whether we could not help them. Remember, Lord, that we are apt to make slips; we are a spineless race, given to blundering; think of our build, our limitations. Our skins may be sound, but there are sores underneath. O God, you are well disposed to us; give us the strength of your support. Give us encouragement, give the light that goes with it. Make us live by the truths of the faith preached by your holy apostles and the high teaching of the Gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. (Adapted from Ouchmounen Papyrus)