7 Sunday A: Love Your Enemies

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

Today’s first reading from Leviticus speaks of holiness. Holiness means separateness and distinctiveness from the world. The Lord says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord, your God am holy.” Holiness is primarily the attribute of God, but by relating to God and drawing close to him, Israel too becomes holy. Holiness must flow from one’s behavior to life. If God is compassionate and loving we too must become like our God, more compassionate and loving.You are God’s Temple
King Janaka of ancient India was greatly revered by all for his holiness. Once, while listening to a discourse from a holy guru together with some citizens, a herald announced, “The king’s palace is on fire!” Everyone rushed towards the palace since they had relatives working for the king or fields surrounding the palace. King Janaka remained unmoved. Thinking that Janaka hadn’t heard him, the herald shouted louder, “Your palace is burning!” Annoyed the king replied, “Let my palace burn! It’s more important that I become holy by listening to my guru rather than to save my palace.” Today’s reading speaks about holiness since every person is a temple of the Spirit.
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’

Today’s gospel invites us to reflect on a particular aspect of the love established by Jesus: love your enemies. These words of Jesus must have sounded so strange to his listeners, that even his apostles found it hard to accept them. “I say to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” In fact, this is the command that makes our Christian religion different from all others. No founder of religion other than Jesus ever commanded such a thing to his followers. There is a natural desire in us for revenge and retaliation but Jesus calls for an unselfish attitude which not only refuses to retaliate but also to react. The ultimate Christian calling is to be like our Heavenly Father.  The Old Law regarding enemies in ancient times was the law of family retaliation. If anyone of your family was injured, you had a right to hit back. In fact, the Law of the Talion meant that you could have life for life, eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth. But the Law of Jesus went far beyond: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” This is the most difficult test in the Christian life and many fail it. To sincerely forgive is beyond human strength, but the Spirit within us can help us to forgive. Refusal to forgive is the greatest sin we can commit within the community, the one that blocks God’s love. The forgiveness we give others will be the source of our own forgiveness and eternal joy.

Changed from Within
Two farmers, John and James, were good friends until a dispute arose between them over a piece of land. Unable to settle the issue among themselves they went to court over it. The court decided in favour of John. James was bitter and put poison in John’s well, not a fatal dose but enough to give an obnoxious taste. John was very angry. His neighbours heard about it. Some refused to get involved. But others were supportive and declared that James should be made to pay for what he had done. John was about to go by night and poison James’ well when a stranger arrived at his house. On hearing the story, the stranger agreed that it was a pretty nasty situation, but he would not agree with retaliation. “Poison is not a thing to be played around with” he declared. “I’ve a better idea. I’ll show you in the morning.” His idea was to clean the well. He offered to help. Reluctantly John agreed. It was a messy business and took them two whole days. After they ran fresh water several times the stranger took a cup of water and declared it was clean. John also drank but insisted he could still taste the poison. To which the stranger replied, “Take it from me. The water is perfect. But you will continue to taste the poison till you forgive your neighbour. You got rid of the poison in the well, but not the poison in your mind and heart.” That evening John went over to his neighbour and made his peace with him. When he came back he tasted the water and this time it tasted good.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’

From Hatred to Love
South Africa is a country blessed by God in a great many ways. But the country which should have been a haven for all the peoples of Southern Africa became instead a heaven for a privileged white minority. Many people tried in vain to change South Africa’s apartheid system. Finally, Nelson Mandela appeared on the scene. He too tried to bring about reforms. But like reformers before him, he was rejected. Worse, he was hounded by the government, and ended up spending twenty-seven years in prison. However, he not only survived prison, but came out of it with the respect of his enemies and of the entire world. Furthermore, he came out without bitterness. In fact, he came out smiling, and immediately sought reconciliation with the leaders that kept him, in prison.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’

Oskar, Saint or Sinner?
Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist who personally saved over a thousand Polish Jews from the horrors of the concentration camps during the Second World War. One grateful person had this to say in appreciation: "Oskar Schindler was our father, our mother, our liberator and our only hope." On the other hand, Oskar Schindler was unfaithful to his wife and was totally immersed in the proverbial good life of wine, woman and song. He was a Catholic, but only in name. Oskar Schindler was no saint. But there was a better side to him, and that came to the fore one day when appalled by the horrors of the concentration camps he felt something had to be done, and using his personal wealth and connections, he saved more than a thousand Jews. Like Schindler, none of us is perfect. But, also like him, there is in each and every one of us a better side, on which we must steadily build, so that we grow with each passing day, with virtue and Christian holiness.
James Valladares in 'Your Words, O Lord, Are Spirit, and They Are Life'

Evil is Deceptive
Albert Speer was an important member of the Nazi hierarchy during Hitler's reign. He was Hitler's architect, and minister of Armament, Munitions and War Productions. After the defeat of Hitler and Germany, he was tried at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity and subsequently condemned to serve 20 years in prison. Albert Speer was one of the most intelligent, educated and principled persons in Germany. How he was captivated by Hitler's magnetism to accept such bizarre ideologies -the secret policies, the concentration camps, the nonsensical rhetoric of Aryan Supremacy and anti-Semitism, is beyond anyone's comprehension. During his trial at Nuremberg, he took responsibility for the horrors of the Nazi regime, although most of the time, he was not aware of the happenings around. Later in life, he sincerely regretted his association with Hitler. He could still not explain completely why he subscribed to Hitler's evil idiosyncrasies.
John Rose in 'John's Sunday Homilies'

A Better Way
One day a native American was talking to his grandson about the atrocities that happened in New York city on September 11, 2001. Suddenly the grandson asked, “Grandpa, how do you feel about that atrocity?” “I feel as if there are two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is angry, vengeful and violent. The other is loving, forgiving and compassionate.” he answered. “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart? The grandson asked. “The one I feed.” Jesus says to us, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” He never said that we would have no enemies – there is no lack of realism here. But he offers us a new way of dealing with our enemies. The injunction ‘Love your enemies’ is a radical rejection of violence.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’

 From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1) "If I could talk face to face with the pilot who dropped the bomb":  
A 33-year-old Vietnamese woman named Kim Phu placed a wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and delivered a short speech. Twenty-four years ago, when Kim Phu was only 9 years old, her picture was taken by an Associated Press photographer and it seared the conscience of the world. Her village had just been hit by a United States napalm attack. Her two brothers were killed instantly. Kim Phu's clothes were burned off her. In the photograph, this little girl was running, naked, in pain and terror. Last Monday in Washington, speaking to a hushed crowd, she made the following statement: "I have suffered a lot from my physical and emotional pain. Sometimes I thought I could not live, but God saved my life and gave me faith and hope. If I could talk face to face with the pilot who dropped the bomb, I would tell him we cannot change history, but we should try to do things for the present and for the future to promote peace." No retaliation! Just tough, wise love. That's the spirit of Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. It's the greatest power on earth. In the face of it, the devil trembles.

2) "The goal is reconciliation and redemption.  
Martin Luther King, Jr. would take this principle from the Sermon on the Mount and use it to revolutionize America. King used to say, "No man can pull me down so low as to make me hate him." The real goal, said King, was not to defeat the white man, but to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor and to challenge his false sense of superiority. "The goal is reconciliation, redemption, the creation of the beloved community." The words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount which Martin Luther King paraphrased, are totally out of step with our present world because our  world believes in retaliation. 75 percent of Christians believe in capital punishment because they think we can stop the killing by killing the killers. That's retaliation.

3) The Rev. Cleveland Duke of Akron is a part-time judo instructor. He says, "I teach you what to do after you've turned both cheeks." He teaches self-defence.

4) In Bill Adler's popular book of letters from kids, an 8 year-old boy from Nashville, Tennessee makes this contribution: "Dear Pastor, I know God wants us to love everybody, but He surely never met my sister." Sincerely, Arnold.

5) There was a man who was always bragging about his love for children.
One day he was pouring a new driveway of cement and some of the little kids in the neighbourhood came running through his yard and ran right through his freshly poured driveway. In fact, this occurred while he was gone, and some even wrote their initials and names in the cement. By the time he got back it had hardened that way with the footprints and the initials and the names hardened for all to see. This man went into a tirade. He was screaming and yelling at the top of his lungs; pacing back and forth about to explode. One of his neighbours came over and said, "I thought you said you loved children." The man said, "Well, I do love them in the abstract, but I don't love them in the concrete."

6) "What does agápe love mean?” asked the teacher.  “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's agápe love." (Rebecca- age 8).

 From Sermon Illustrations:

Mark Twain once said this about the Bible: "I have no problem with those parts of the Bible I don't understand. It's those parts of the Bible I do understand that gives me fits." The passage that we are going to study certainly fits into that category.

This passage illustrates something I bet most of you have never thought about before. One of the easiest things in the world to do is to become a Christian. It is ridiculously easy. All you have to do is confess you are a sinner, repent of your sin, believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sin and was raised from the dead, and surrender your life to Him as your Lord and Savior; and you become a Christian immediately and instantaneously. There is not an easier thing in the world than to become a Christian. But at the same time, one of the most difficult things in the world is to be a Christian, and you're going to see that illustrated this morning.

What Jesus says is totally antithetical to the typical attitude in America. Years ago there was a bumper sticker that became rather popular that simply said two words: "I Want." Now that tag would fit on just about every car in America. We live in the country of "I want." I want my rights; I want my happiness; I want my way; I want my money.

Rights are considered as American as apple pie. This is a country where citizens have rights. The best known part of the Constitution is the Bill of Rights. I'm all for the right kind of rights, but today rights don't so much protect the innocent as they promote the guilty. If you're going to be a real Christian you're going to have to give up some rights...

Robert Valentine once compared Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft as presidents. He said, "The difference was that when you left Teddy Roosevelt's presence you were ready to eat bricks for lunch, and when you left Taft you felt -- what's the use." (Felix Frankfurter, Felix Frankfurter Reminisces [1960], 85.)  
We're hoping that when you leave church this morning, you're ready to eat bricks for lunch. But I hope you have something more wholesome.

Remember as a kid . . . you didn't want to go to bed while the adults were all gathered for something? You didn't want to miss out. You heard everyone laughing. Then you heard everyone talking in a low voice. What were they saying? What was so funny? You wanted to be in the midst of it too. You wanted to be a part of the fun and excitement, or what you perceived might be fun and exciting, even if it wasn't. In any case, you didn't want to be left out, while everyone else was "in."

The church was like that too once. Not too long ago, people wanted to be a part of the church so much they would purchase their pews a year in advance so that "their seat" would be waiting for them when they arrived, and they wouldn't miss out on any part of worship, or have to stand in the back to watch. Having your own pew meant you were part of the ones who "belonged." Others who couldn't afford a pew would gladly stand in the back or in the aisles if all the chairs were taken, or even watch from the outside if they weren't allowed in, just so they could be part of that worship in any way they could. And not too long ago, people in some denominations fiercely dreaded the status of being ostracized or shunned if it kept them from going to church, where they felt part of a community of worship. No matter what, you didn't want to miss out.

In late 2013, a new word was accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary to explain this kind of phenomenon. The word is "FOMO" - a short-hand acronym for the "fear of missing out"...
Love Your Enemy

In a sermon written in a Georgia jail and preached just after the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said this about loving your enemies:

After noting that hate is just as injurious to the hater as the hated, Dr. King says,

"Of course this is not practical; life is a matter of getting even, of hitting back, of dog eat dog... My friends, we have followed the so-called practical way for too long a time now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos. Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way. This does not mean that we abandon our righteous efforts. With every ounce of our energy we must continue to rid this nation of the incubus of segregation. But we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege and our obligation to love. While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community."

Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope: the Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., page 596, quoted by Chuck Queen, Love Your Enemies

What Christians Are Really Made Of

This text from Matthew makes me recall the words of C.S. Lewis, "Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is. If there are rats in a cellar, you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats; it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way, the suddenness of the provocation does not make me ill-tempered; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am."

Think about the reaction that Christ calls us to have if someone strikes us on the cheek. What kind of a person would that make us? To turn the other cheek and refuse to react with similar anger or malice shows the world we are Christian. So if what we do when we are taken off guard is the best evidence of what sort of person we are, let us pray our reactions show that we are good Christians!

Adapted from C.S. Lewis
Practice What You Admire

Once upon a time a prince was born physically deformed. He was known as the hunchback prince. His physical posture troubled him, because he knew a prince should stand tall and straight. One day he commissioned a sculptor to make a statue of him, not as he was but as he wanted to be. When the statue was completed, the prince had it placed in his private garden. Every day thereafter, he would stand before his statue and try to pull back his shoulders and stand tall. After some years, his physique matched the statue!

It is obvious, is it not, that the principle involved in this story is that what we admire, adore, greatly respect, and worship, we eventually become.

John Brokhoff, Old Truths for New Times, CSS Publishing Company
Going Beyond Duty: The Second Mile

Shortly after the battles ended the American Revolution, but before the peace had been negotiated, George Washington was with his troops in Newburgh, New York. But they began to grow very restless because they hadn't been paid. Washington had begged the Continental Congress to do what they said they would do and pay the soldiers, but they refused.
Well, some of the officers began to organize a rebellion. They talked about marching on Philadelphia, which was at that time the seat of the reigning national government, and overthrowing that government and letting the army rule the nation.

With the fate of America in the balance, George Washington made a surprise appearance before these officers. After praising them for their service and thanking them for their sacrifice, he pulled from his pocket a copy of a speech that he wished to read. But then he fumbled with a paper and finally reached for a set of reading glasses-glasses those men had never seen him wear before. Washington made this simple statement: "I have already grown grey in the service of my country, and now I am going blind."

Historian Richard Norton Smith wrote: "Instantly rebellion melted into tears. It was a galvanizing moment, and the rebellion..." and the rebellion was put down because they had seen before them a second miler. Becoming a Christian is one thing; being a Christian is another one. Every chance you get for the glory of Jesus, for the goodness of others, and because of the grace of God, go the second mile.

James Merritt, Collected Sermons,
What We Grab Also Grabs Us

Once there was an eagle which hovered over a lake and suddenly swooped down and caught a two-foot long fish in its talons. Slowly, the bird rose with its ten pound catch, but when it reached about 1,000 feet, it began to descend, until it splashed into the water. Later, both the bird and fish were found dead. Apparently the fish was too heavy for the eagle, but it could not let go, for its talons were embedded in the flesh of the fish. The truth is that what we grab, grabs us. When we grab alcohol, drugs, or sex, it grabs us and brings us down to death.

John Brokhoff, Old Truths For New Times, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.

Reconciliation: Refusing to Retaliate

It's a story that is repeated on every elementary school playground, nearly every day in our country. Two fourth-graders get into it during recess; something about "he did this, so I did that" and it kind of goes south from there. When they get back to class, Billy trips Joey. After lunch, Joey breaks Billy's pencil on purpose. When nobody is looking, Billy writes on Joey's desk, and later, Joey steals Billy's folder. After school, Billy and his friends face Joey and his friends, and they call each other names. Somebody gets hurt. Somebody else gets hurt worse. And then there is no telling when or if these conflicts will ever end.

Sound familiar? We have all experienced this sort of escalating pettiness and we readily admit that it is silly. But I would suggest to you that we can remove the names "Billy" and "Joey" and insert the words "husband" and "wife" and the story is much the same. Or we could insert the names of two rival high schools, or two rival companies, or "The Hatfields" and "The McCoys." Or Republicans and Democrats, or "pro-life" and "pro-choice," or Israel and Palestine, or America and almost any Arab nation you care to name. Conflict at any level is conflict. And if not preventable, most conflict is at least resolvable...but not until one side refuses to retaliate and instead decides to reconcile.

Steve Molin, He Hit Me First!
 A Christian Conception of Justice

The nature of men and of organized society dictates the maintenance in every field of action of the highest and purest standards of justice and of right dealing.... By justice the lawyer generally means the prompt, fair, and open application of impartial rules; but we call ours a Christian civilization, and a Christian conception of justice must be much higher. It must include sympathy and helpfulness and a willingness to forego self-interest in order to promote the welfare, happiness, and contentment of others and of the community as a whole.

Woodrow Wilson
 Love Your Enemies

Former Boston Red Sox Hall-of-Fame third baseman Wade Boggs hated Yankee Stadium. Not because of the Yankees; they never gave him that much trouble but because of a fan. That's right: one fan.

The guy had a box seat close to the field, and when the Red Sox were in town he would torment Boggs by shouting obscenities and insults. It's hard to imagine one fan getting under a player's skin, but this guy had the recipe.

One day as Boggs was warming up, the fan began his routine, yelling, 'Boggs, you stink' and variations on that theme. Boggs had enough. He walked directly over to the man, who was sitting in the stands, and said,
"Hey fella, are you the guy who's always yelling at me?" The man said, "Yeah, it's me. What are you going to do about it?"
Wade took a new baseball out of his pocket, autographed it, tossed it to the man, and went back to the field to continue his pre-game routine.
The man never yelled at Boggs again; in fact, he became one of Wades' biggest fans at Yankee Stadium.
In The Grace of Giving,  Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution, Peter Miller, who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and enjoyed the friendship of George Washington. In Ephrata also lived Michael Wittman, an evil-minded sort who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor. One day Michael Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die. Peter Miller traveled seventy miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor.
"No, Peter," General Washington said. "I cannot grant you the life of your friend."
"My friend!" exclaimed the old preacher. "He's the bitterest enemy I have."
"What?" cried Washington. "You've walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in different light. I'll grant your pardon." And he did.
Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata--no longer an enemy but a friend. 
Lynn Jost.

 “He couldn't fight, either.”  
One day a truck driver stopped at a restaurant for dinner and ordered a steak. Before he could eat it, in walked a motorcycle gang, with dirty leather jackets and long, unkempt hair. They took the man's steak, cut it into six pieces, and ate it. The driver said nothing. He simply paid the bill and walked out. One of the gang members said, "That man couldn't talk. He didn't say a word." Another one said, "He couldn't fight, either; he didn't lift a hand." A waiter added, "I would say that he couldn't drive either. On his way out of the parking lot, he ran over six motorcycles crushing all of them." Something in us loves that story, because we like retaliation. But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus prescribes forgiving love as the Christian trump card.

Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes. 

Rabbi David A. Nelson likes to tell the story of two brothers who went to their rabbi to settle a longstanding feud. The rabbi got the two to reconcile their differences and shake hands. As they were about to leave, he asked each one to make a wish for the other in honor of the Jewish New Year. The first brother turned to the other and said, "I wish you what you wish me." At that, the second brother threw up his hands and said, "See, Rabbi, he's starting up again!"
David A. Nelson.

In "Context," Mary Marty retells a parable from the "Eye of the Needle" newsletter: A holy man was engaged in his morning meditation under a tree whose roots stretched out over the riverbank. During his meditation he noticed that the river was rising, and a scorpion caught in the roots was about to drown. He crawled out on the roots and reached down to free the scorpion, but every time he did so, the scorpion struck back at him. An observer came along and said to the holy man, "Don't you know that's a scorpion, and it's in the nature of a scorpion to want to sting?" To which the holy man replied, 'That may well be, but it is my nature to save, and must I change my nature because the scorpion does not change its nature?"  
Joseph B. Modica.

In 1632, at the Battle of Lutzen during the 30 year's war, King Gustavus Adolphus was shot in the back while leading his cavalry in a charge against the Catholic armies of the Holy Roman Empire. Who actually killed him remains an unanswered question. However, many historical authorities insist that Gustavus must have been killed by one of his own men, if not accidentally then intentionally by a traitor.
Source Unknown.

Statistics and Stuff

Politics without principle, pleasure without conscience, wealth without work, knowledge without character, business without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice. 
Mohandas K. Gandhi, on things that will destroy us.


A reporter was interviewing an old man on his 100th birthday. "What are you most proud of?" he asked. "Well, " said the man, "I don't have an enemy in the world." "What a beautiful thought! How inspirational!" said the reporter. "Yep," added the centenarian, "outlived every last one of them."
Source Unknown.