SEVENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (A)
Are Christians wimps? It's easy to see how some may get that impression. In this Sunday's gospel reading (Mt 5:38-48), Jesus says that when someone strikes us on one cheek, we are to offer the other one. He says if someone wants your tunic, to give him your cloak, as well. He says if someone presses us into service for one mile, we should go two miles. He says we should not refuse anyone who wants to borrow money from us.
Is Christ commanding us to be door-mats? Are we to allow others to walk all over us, and take advantage of us?
I don't think so. I don't believe Christ desires a wimpy Church. Christ desires a Church that is strong. But there are different kinds of strength. What Christ asks of us is not militant aggressiveness or egotistical defensiveness. Christ wants a Church that is strong in love.
The Christian is called to love without limits. What Jesus does in this gospel reading is to shatter our preconceived notions of how far our love should extend. "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy" is easy enough to understand. To love those who love us and to hate those who hate us seems natural. It makes sense.
But Christ calls us to something higher. Christ says we are to love even our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Jesus tells us that there is nothing praiseworthy about only loving those who love you. "Do not the pagans do the same?"
When I was in college and I had friends who were involved in neo-pagan religions, especially Wicca. They told me that the key moral code of their religion is, "If it harms none, do what you will." This is a passive morality. It doesn't so much tell us what to do, as what to avoid. Not causing others harm is good. But it's not good enough.
Our Christian morality goes farther than forbidding us from harming our neighbor; it commands us to love our neighbor. Love is more than just not causing harm. Love means working for their good. This is an active morality, one that calls us to go forth and do something.
True love is not contingent upon anything else. True love is generous. True love is unconditional. This is what Christ is calling us to -- true and perfect love. "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect," is what Christ commands. And how does the Father love us? He loves us so completely that even when we were His enemies, lost in our sin, He sent His only begotten Son to die for us; to be punished and persecuted for our sake, and to bless those who persecuted Him as He was being nailed to the cross. That is our new standard of love.
So when someone strikes a Christian, we forgive them. When someone persecutes a Christian, we bless them. When someone hates a Christian, we love them. Anything less is a sin.
Now I ask you again: Are Christians wimps?