7th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2022
St. James Cathedral
Honoring Healthcare Workers
Saturday evening during Mass at St. James Cathedral we honored all our healthcare workers. This morning I was at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Bremerton to celebrate the Eucharist and the sacrament of Confirmation.
On both occasions, the readings this weekend called for a homily which explores the challenge of Jesus to love to our fullest potential.
You can read the homily for this weekend below, or simply watch the Mass recording beginning around the 24:30 mark.
With St. Paul’s reflection on the First and Last Adam, (First Letter to the Corinthians 15: 45-49) we see the foundation of our Christian understanding of the human person who is one, a unity of body and soul, created by God – created in God’s image and likeness. The human person is not only created by God, but has also received the great gift of salvation from Christ, who suffered, died and rose from the dead that we may live with the hope and promise of resurrection ourselves, AND that we might now enjoy the possibility of living to the fulness of our potential, which includes his demanding teaching we have heard today, to love our enemies, doing good to those who hate us, and praying for those who mistreat us.
Similarly from our first reading (1 Samuel 26) we expand upon David’s reasoning for not harming the ‘anointed one of God.’ Every baptized individual shares this anointing, and even before that the sacredness of every human being requires that we do them no harm, but rather respect the dignity and sanctity of life they share.
With this proper understanding of the human person now in mind, we hear the challenging teaching of Jesus today: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-38)
The Christian moral life is a high calling, and one we can achieve.
Think of the various types of love we experience. There is a love that comes quite naturally and is rooted in attraction. This love is rooted more in the passions.
Then there is a love for those who are a part of our family, those from whom we have received much love, and thus returning love for love is somewhat of a reciprocal relationship.
But, Jesus is calling us to the highest form of love. In the Gospel today he states it in a very positive formula: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
And then, Jesus acknowledges the challenge of going beyond a passionate love or even a reciprocal love when he says: “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” The highest form of love always seeks the good of the other, no matter how they have treated us or others.
Because we are sinners, we find these words of Jesus stinging. Our initial thoughts are to ‘push back’. We want the simple path of justifying ourselves by comparing ourselves one to another. But this will not do. Jesus goes on to state clearly where our standard of comparison is to be found; more specifically, to whom we are to look for the gold standard, and thus the golden rule of “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We are to look to God, and how he loves us as our standard.
“But rather, love your enemies and do good toward them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
If this teaching of Jesus seems too high, too far beyond our grasp, it is helpful to think what our world will look like if we are content to continue with human standards alone, to be content to only love those who love us.
Recall the words of Pope Francis in his 2020 Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti:
Every act of violence committed against a human being is a wound in humanity’s flesh; every violent death diminishes us as people … Violence leads to more violence, hatred to more hatred, death to more death. We must break this cycle which seems inescapable.” (Fratelli Tutti, number 227)
When we desire the good for another person, when we recognize them as a brother or sister created by God with the same dignity as our own, we begin to see how it is possible to love with the love of God. We begin to recognize that I am not the only child of God, loved by God, who desires my free love in return, but so is every other person. We begin to understand that God not only desires my free love of him in return, but as a sign of that love, I am called to love my neighbor as myself.
Jesus concludes today’s Gospel by telling us the behaviors that put us on the path of this highest calling of love.
Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
Let us return to St. Paul’s understanding of the human person, who is a unity of body and soul. As Christians, we have also received the free gift of renewed life through the death and resurrection of Jesus. What this means is that the divine attributes of mercy, forgiveness, service and generosity exist within us. And what this means is what Jesus knew when he preached this message – we are capable of living up to the highest standards of love, because this is what God created us for!
If all we look for is the minimum, or the least we must do from a moral perspective, it is quite possible that eternal life with God will ultimately become an unfulfilled dream. To reach the highest calling of love requires the rejection of minimal standards. The truest form of love and the work of building a better society and world – indeed, the Kingdom of God, is a daunting and ceaseless task, requiring the self-less and best efforts of us all. God knows we can rise to this challenge. Christ knows this as well and has set us free for this great exercise of freedom. Christ is also with us to help us achieve our goal, and his words echo in our hearts:
Love one another as I have loved you.