Today’s scriptures remind us that our faith can be strengthened and confirmed in our response to events, which we might otherwise not prefer to experience.
During the summer before I entered the seventh grade, our family farm was hit by a tornado. Miraculously, no people or livestock were hurt, but our barns and silos were flattened and our farmstead was covered with twisted wreckage. It all happened in the evening, just before dark. Our cattle were scattered in the tall cornfields, and we all spent a restless evening until daylight came. Then something interesting happened: neighbors and friends arrived – more than fifty of them – to help us clean up. This experience demonstrated the power of living in a community of compassion and concern. Without our need, we would not have experienced such an outpouring of support.
The natural world sometimes provides puzzlement about important concepts like justice and goodness. Today’s Gospel reminds us that the rain falls and the sun shines on both the just and the unjust, the bad and the good. Rather than singling out persons according to merit, the natural world reflects an order in which people are sometimes treated well or poorly with anonymity. We get good gifts (like rain or sun) or harsh ones (like severe storms), without any apparent connection to what we deserve (or think we deserve). But our faith may indeed be confirmed and strengthened in our response to those gifts.
In today’s first reading, the churches of Macedonia provide an example of a people who experienced trials and suffering. Although some might be seduced into looking at poverty or suffering as a sign of disfavor from God, the Macedonians did not see it this way. Their response became a source of inspiration and faith. Paul saw the significance of their generosity in the face of suffering.
In the Gospel, Jesus’ teaching about our response to enemies also calls us to exhibit an extraordinary response. When others are behaving with antagonism and enmity toward us, the natural response is not love and understanding – at least mine is not. Jesus’ call to respond with love and prayer is a tall order indeed. When mistreated, my natural tendency is to lick my wounds and rehearse the wrong I have experienced. I try to reassure myself that the perpetrators are bad people, that I am not like them, and that I don’t deserve this treatment. All of that may or may not be true in a particular case, but it misses the point. We need to look beyond the event to our response to gauge its significance in our lives.
I find that the challenge to love my enemies and to be generous in the face of difficulty is more than I can do on my own. All too often, I know that I need more prayer and more grace to generate the reaction that Jesus calls us to have. But I also know that no other approach really brings peace or satisfaction.
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