"You have heard it said ... but, I say to you ... "
Jesus has been reshaping what the people had heard and learned. He was reshaping what they thought about God and he was transforming their sense of what kind of relationship God wants to have with them. He is taking the people into a deeper sense of who God is and therefore, who they are called to be.
We know the response. The poor people, the sinners, the marginal found it comforting and a powerful revelation of a God who loved them, intended to offer healing and peace, and wanted them to share that love and unifying peace with others. The religious leaders didn't like his message. They had built their status on a way of seeing God and human behavior. Because they obeyed the law, they were better than others who didn't. They were special and therefore could separate themselves from those whose lives weren't so tidy and clean. And, of course, after a while, the religious leaders came to think that God was like that, too. So, when Jesus showed them a different picture of God, they didn't like it at all. And, they sought to get rid of him. Rejecting the message, they rejected the Messenger.
We can ask ourselves today how we feel about Jesus' asking us to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us. Even when we know that Jesus is only calling us to "love one another the [same] way I have loved you," we find it difficult to do. We make distinctions. We ask what he really means by "love." How much? To what extent? What about self-preservation? What about ...?
Perhaps the easiest way to let the grace of this invitation of Jesus into our hearts is to practice it. The notion of "practicing" something - whether it be sports or some skill - involves doing something in a fairly formal way, with a fairly regular routine, until it becomes a natural habit. After much practice, "we get the hang of it." We become more comfortable with what was uncomfortable or awkward. I remember so vividly how my father showed me how to practice a correct golf swing, encouraging me to be patient, but insisting that I keep repeating it the "proper" way. "Otherwise," he would say, "you'll be practicing errors."
Each of us can make a mental (or better, written) list of those people we need to love more. Some on the list will be real "enemies" of some sort. Naming them is important. We can bypass all the "reasons" we have for not loving them. We can begin by asking ourselves what it would look like to love this person more. We need to identify some behaviors that are loving, caring, forgiving, healing, comforting, helpful, bring peace. Then, we just do those things. They may be awkward and clumsy at first. But, if we keep checking out whether we are doing them with love, and keep repeating them, God's grace will do the rest. And the practice of love will bring forth love for even our enemies.
In this practice, which Jesus invites us to learn, there will come a happiness the world doesn't begin to understand.
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