16th Sunday of Year A
What does it mean to love our enemies?
In this week’s Gospel passage, Jesus tells us several parables. In the parable of weeds among the wheat (verse 24-30), our Lord explains that while God sowed good seeds in the world, the Evil One sowed weeds. Hence, evil dwells among goodness in the world; weeds grow among the wheat. Consequently, even as we try to do good in the world, we inevitably encounter evil. Evil can come from anywhere, it can come from those in the society who opposes our Christian values; it can come from our families; it can even come from fellow Christians within our faith communities. The third category is especially worrying.
In the parable of the yeast and dough (verse 33), Jesus explains how a little yeast can leaven the whole dough. In the Bible, yeast is used to symbolise evil. When evil enters our faith community, it can cause great harm. For example, driven by pride, envy or self-interest, a member of our community may say or do something that causes hurt or resentment within the community. Without a disposition of grace, the aggrieved party may decide to retaliate, causing more hurt and resentment. Very soon, a vicious cycle takes hold and evil takes root in the community, just as a little yeast leavens the whole dough.
No one but God has a full understanding of the disposition of one’s heart. We do not know what motivates a person to choose words or actions that hurt other people. Yes, we may say it is due to pride, envy or self-interest, but we do not know the origin of these destructive feelings in that person. The person could be ignorant or perhaps he/she is carrying wounds from the past. The truth is, hurting people hurt other people. When I carry unresolved hurt in my life, I carry that hurt onto the other relationships in my life, sometimes subconsciously. That is why it is important that we should only condemn the act but never the person – we must distinguish between the sin and the sinner. We are against evil but never against the person who commits the evil act. Our Lord Jesus gave us a perfect example on the cross when he said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) Such is the love of our Lord, that he not only loves those who hurt him, he even made excuses for them!
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:43-44). Loving those who love us is the most natural thing to do. Similarly, it is also instinctive to seek revenge from those who hurt us. Jesus, however, calls us to a higher form of love, that is, the love of our enemies.
Why, you may ask? Why love our enemies? Isn’t good enough if I just ignore them and not retaliate? There are two reasons.
The first reason is, it is for our salvation. To suffer unjustly for the love of our God is a path to holiness. A lawyer once asked Jesus, which is a greatest of all commandment? (Mt 22: 36). Our Lord replied, “you shall love the Lord your God” (Mt 22:37) and “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt 22:39). Loving our neighbour and loving ourselves are two sides of the same coin – we cannot truly love one without loving the other also. Importantly, as our Lord explains, the love of God precedes the love of neighbour and self.
When a brother or sister hurt me gravely, how do I forgive and love that person unconditionally? This Christian calling is counter-cultural. To do this, we need to first contemplate on the love of God and call upon the Holy Spirit to our aid. As the Second Reading explains, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (verse 26). I must first experience unconditional love of God. It is only when I am able to live our Lord’s Passion in my own life that I am able to forgive and love those who wronged me. The Love of God precede and begets the love of neighbour.
The second reason we should love our enemies is for their salvation. When we suffer unjustly without retaliating, when our main concern is on the conversion of our enemies, we can win over hardened hearts. It will take time and patience, and the journey is often difficult, but that is what we are called to do as Christians. The Lord calls us to love our neighbour the way we love ourselves. If the table is turned and I am the one who have hurt others, would I want to be forgiven and loved? Of course we do. As the First Reading teaches, “Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind, and you have filled your children with good hope, because you give repentance for sins.” (verse 19)
St Francis of Assisi once said, “Our friends are all those who unjustly inflict upon us distress and anguish, shame and injury, sorrow and punishment, martyrdom and death. We must love them greatly, for we shall possess eternal life because of what they bring us.”
“Let anyone with ears listen!” (Gospel, verse 43)