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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Conquer Evil With Good

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 18, 2017
St Mary of the Pines Catholic Church, Shreveport, LA, U.S.A.
Fr. Joe is on leave from his parish in Kenya, St. John the Apostle Awasi Catholic Church, Kisumu Archdiocese.

Today, the Church turns its attention to this
very important theological virtue, Love. The Lord is Love, and the Church calls us to be like Him. This is because, we are living stones built into Christ, a Temple erected to give glory to God.

In our first reading (
Lev 19: 1-2), Moses is urging the "chosen community" to be holy because their God is also holy. The chosen people are called to be separate and distinct from the people and nations surrounding them. Those who belong to God are commanded to love each other as they love themselves. 

In the Gospel (
Mat 5:38-48), Jesus continues his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Mathew presents Jesus as the true interpreter of the Law of Moses received on Mt Sinai. It is good for us to remember that Jesus assures the Jews that he didn't come to abolish any part of the law, but to fulfill the law. He takes the challenge to love to another dimension, the heart of man. 

The Old Testament taught an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But Jesus says offer no resistance. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, give him your left. For those
who live in the teaching of Christ there must be no retaliation for an injury.  This leads to the most difficult command. Love -- not only your neighbour -- but love and do good to your enemies.

We need to ask ourselves then, why did Jesus give this strange advice? I will answer it with this example; A new patient walked into the office of the famous psychiatrist Dr. Smiley Blanton. The patient noted a copy of the Bible on Dr Blanton's desk and said, "Don't tell me that the great Dr. Blanton reads the Bible!" The doctor answered, "I not only read the Bible. I meditate on it. It's the greatest book on human behavior ever written. If people followed its teaching a lot of psychiatrists could close their offices and go home."
 
 What Jesus is telling the Jews, is that if a Roman tells you to go a mile with him, don't be angry, go two miles. When people resent their enemies, they end up hurting themselves. One author explains it this way: "When we hate our enemies, we give them power over us -- over our sleep, our blood pressure, even over our happiness and health." Our enemies would dance for joy if they knew how our hatred tears us apart. Our hatred is not hurting them at all. It only turns our own days and nights into hellish turmoil. 

My dear people of God, we hurt ourselves by bearing a grudge. Hating people is like
burning down your own house to get rid of a rat.  Can blood be washed with blood and can injury repair injury? Of course it is human to strive to get even with an enemy but it is Christian to forgive for we are all children of God who loves both the good and the bad without any discrimination. Hence Christ in the Sermon on the Mount is concerned with the heart of man.

In the end of his discourse, Jesus gives us a goal: “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

In the novel,  Alice in Wonderland, we find Alice wandering around in a dream world. She stops to ask a cat: “Would you tell me, please, which way I should go from here?”
The cat replies: “That depends a good deal on where you want to be.” Alice said: “Oh, I don’t much care.” With that the cat responds: “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.” But Alice persisted: “But I want to get somewhere.” Whereupon the cat, with a wry grin, said: “Oh, you are sure to do that!”

We can be a lot like Alice, saying “Oh, it doesn’t much matter” to a whole lot of things. It doesn’t much matter which church you go to. It doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth. Pretty soon nothing much matters at all. Eventually our lives don’t matter, and we’ll be just like Alice drifting aimlessly in our own little wonderland going nowhere!

Some will say: “Well, what kind of a goal is that? Nobody can be equal to God anyway. So what’s the point?” How can we, mere mortals that we are with all of our faults and failures, be as perfect as God is perfect? Good point. It’s sort of like telling a child who has just learned simple arithmetic to solve a problem requiring calculus.

We need, of course, to look deeper into the words of Jesus. He uses an Aramaic word that carries the idea of completeness in the word “perfect.” Be ye complete as your
Heavenly father is complete. That's what Jesus is saying. Love completely as God loves completely. He loves without boundaries.

To be holy, however, does not mean for us to boast about our piety and our devotion to God. That is the way of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, which Our Lord Jesus rebuked. Being holy does not equate us saying prayers aloud in public, or being seen carrying holy relics. All these are external signs of faith without genuine holiness mean nothing for us.

St Paul in our second reading (
1 Cor 3:16-23) reminds us that our call is to remain united in Christ and avoid division since we are that temple of God where the Spirit of God dwells.  Human wisdom might make us think that we are followers of Paul, Apollos or Cephas, forgetting we are followers of Christ. We should avoid factions.  St Paul urged us to live in love as one family.

A popular Protestant preacher, Emmet Fox, once explained it in a way I think we all can understand. And it starts with something so simple, but so hard: forgiveness. It is a necessary first step. He says by not forgiving we “are tied to the thing [we] hate. The person whom you most dislike is the very one to whom you are attaching yourself by a hook that is stronger than steel. Is this what you wish?” I think we all know the answer. We need to detach ourselves from that hook. Then, and only then, can we begin to heal, and to love, and to pray for those who have hurt us so deeply.

Today, as you approach the altar to receive the body of Christ, pray to detach that hook. Pray for the grace to love the unlovable, to forgive the unforgivable, and to remember in prayer those you’d rather
forget.

I have a long way to go to achieve that. I think most of us do.

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