Sunday, February 19, 2017

Do Good Today

Tissot's Sermon of the Beatitudes
Jesus in today’s Gospel asks us to love our enemies.  The real challenge is to love people we struggle with.  Jesus instills within us a vision that sees beyond appearances and recognizes the spark of the divine in every human being, no matter how “bad” or “unlovable” or "disagreeable" they can seem.  In the Greek text of Matthew’s Gospel, the word for love is agape: not a romantic or emotional love for a special Valentine, but an unconditional love for our fellow human beings.

You don’t have to like someone to love him/her. Jesus asks us that, no matter how much someone hurts or upsets us, we will never let bitterness close our hearts to them.  Agape recognizes the humanity we share with all people.

Jesus makes some radical demands upon us: if someone slaps you on one side of the face, offer the other; give to everyone who asks.

Who can possibly “give to everyone who asks?”  Are these teachings simply another example of middle eastern hyperbole/exaggeration? A few people, e. g., Francis of Assisi or Dorothy Day, have tried to take these teachings literally. But for most people, they’re not very practical. And so the question remains: how understand these ethical teachings?

First, we have to remember that Jesus connects our love of God with our love for one another. The judgment scene of Matthew 25 says this loudly and clearly: when I was hungry, when I was thirsty, etc. We can’t say we love God and yet neglect our needy fellow human beings.  Second, these radical ethical teachings have to be linked to the mission of Jesus who proclaims that the kingdom of God is in our midst.  Yes, but the kingdom is not completely or fully here.  You and I are living in-between the historical coming of Jesus and the final coming of Jesus.  And so we live in the tension between.

Jesus indicates the goal or thrust of our ethical behavior, but this goal may not always be achievable.   For example, "giving to everyone who asks" is not always possible, yet it does indicate the thrust or direction of our lives:  be generous with what we have.  To the person who strikes you on one side of the face, Jesus says, offer the other as well.  But sometimes we have to stand up against wrongs, e .g., the evil of Nazism.  We may have to take someone’s life in self-defense.  But the teaching of Jesus indicates that we should try as often as possible to be peacemakers, healers, bridge builders, reconcilers.

And so these radical ethical teachings create tension between the present and final stages of the kingdom of God.  The genuine disciple of Jesus lives in this tension by seizing the many opportunities to do good today.
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