Psalms 146:2, 5-6, 7, 8-9
Paul writes to the Corinthians (Corinth is in present day southern Greece, near Athens) about the Christian communities in Macedonia (present day Macedonia, Bulgaria, and northern Greece). He asks the Corinthians to take the Macedonian community as an example. He points out that the Macedonian church has undergone troubles (not specified, but they may have been persecutions) including poverty, and that despite these troubles, the members of the community have been very generous in their contributions to the church in Jerusalem. Paul indicates that he is talking not only about giving money to the Jerusalem church – although he clearly includes that – but also other kinds of riches – “faith, speech, knowledge, and diligence of every kind, as well as... love.” The obvious lesson here is that we have an obligation to help other Christian communities. But do we have obligations beyond helping those who share our beliefs and values? I will return to this question in a moment when we look at part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mountain. Paul ends with one of the most poetic passages in all of his letters: “You know the generosity of our Lord Jesus Christ: he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich.”
The passage from Matthew is the famous one on love and hate and is
part of the Sermon on the Mountain. Love in the Palestinian world
of the first century was not a vague feeling, a psychological state.
Love in the New Testament means attachment and devotion (not mere affection).
Hate is disattachment, from another person or group. Jesus’ message
here seems to be that we should have some sort of attachment and devotion
even to these who want to turn away from us, our enemies. In this
sermon, Jesus preaches the highest level of love, higher even than Paul’s
call to help fellow churches. It is higher because it calls on us
to love even those whose actions, attitudes and values are completely disattached
from those of our community. One way of reading the scriptural passages
on love and hate is that the scriptures themselves go through a process
of development. (This suggests how problematic it is to cite one
text as authoritative on an issue.) Deuteronomy (19:16-21) calls
for limited revenge against those who harm us. In Matthew 7:12, Jesus
says that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us.
Today’s gospel passage calls for the highest form of love, loving one’s
enemies. I write this on the day the Timothy McVeigh was executed.
How should we apply the message of today’s gospel to McVeigh and to the
issue of capital punishment?
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