Christ’s Standards and Ours, Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time (C), February 18, 2007

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
February 18, 2007
1Sam 26:2,7-9,12-13,22-23; 1Cor 15:45-59; Lk 6:27-38

1) Today Jesus continues the very clear and challenging homily he began seven days ago. Last week, he stressed how different is the path that leads to true happiness, to holiness, to heaven from what men and women normally believe. Whereas the world says you have to be rich to be happy, to be the life of the party, to fulfill every earthly desire and appetite and to be spoken well of by everyone, Jesus says, rather, blessed are the poor, blessed are those who hunger for things beyond their earthly appetites, who weep out of concern for others and for one’s sins, and who are persecuted and reviled on account of their faith.” The Lord presented us a choice, a fork in the road between the “wide path” the world says will lead to beatitude and the narrow, uphill way that he himself indicated and he himself trod. The one who himself was so poor that he didn’t have a pillow on which to lay his head, who wept over Jerusalem and her repeated rejection of God’s offer of love, who fasted for 40 days living off of “every word that fell from the mouth of God” and who was persecuted and maltreated until death, heads up the narrow path to eternal happiness and turns to us and says “follow me!” (Lk 9:58; 19:41; Mt 4:4).

2) Today Jesus continues to point us to the way that leads to life with him and away from the populated path presented by the world. Jesus’ path is challenging. In the Gospel antiphon today, Jesus gives us again his “new commandment,” to “love one another as I have loved you” and in the Gospel itself, he tells us clearly the standard of love by which he lived and by which each of us is called to live.

a. He who loved his enemies enough to give his life for them and prayed that the Father would forgive those who were mocking and crucifying him told us that to be truly his disciples we, too, need to love our enemies, to do good those who hate us, bless those who curse us and to pray for those who abuse us.

b. He who turned the other cheek when the Roman soldiers were beating and scourging him and who did not withhold his tunic from those who were stripping him, commanded us, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from the one who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your shirt.”

c. He who gave his body and blood down the very last drop challenged us to give to everyone who begs of us and if anyone takes our goods, not to ask for them again.

3) In all of these imperatives, Jesus was not telling us, merely, “Do what I say,” but rather, “follow me.” He calls us to love as he did, to love those who don’t love us, to give to those who don’t give to us, to bless those who curse us. He calls us to make the first move, to do to others what we would want them to do to us, regardless of any consideration of what they in fact have done or failed to do to us. He calls us to a higher standard. He calls us, in fact, to his standard. The standard of most in the world is reciprocity. We generally try to treat well those who treat us well; if others treat us poorly, we feel justified in doing the same to them. But living by the principle of an “eye for an eye” just leaves the whole world blind. Christ calls us to look on others with the eyes of God the Father, who is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Jesus tells us that if we love only those who love us, if we do good only to those who are good to us, if we give only to those who give to us, then we are no different from everyone else, whom Jesus very clearly calls “sinners.” The human notion of “justice,” of “quid pro quo” is not enough. Jesus calls us to a higher standard, the standard of God the Father, to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful, even and especially when others do not deserve it. This is what love really is, doing what is best for the other at all times, even when the other does not reciprocate it, or appreciate it, or even acknowledge it.

4) We see an illustration of this type of living by a higher standard in today’s first reading when David, after having been hunted down by King Saul and his assassins, was presented with an opportunity to kill the one who was seeking to kill him. David’s soldiers advised him to take advantage of the opportunity to kill Saul while he was sleeping, saying “God has given your enemy into your hand.” But David was not looking at the situation with their eyes, but with God’s. Even though his life would have been made so much easier if Saul were dead, even though he might have been able to justify killing him in self-defense, David replied, “Who can raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” Although Saul was committing evil against David, David wouldn’t descend to that level of evil. Instead, he treated Saul with mercy. Saul, experiencing that mercy, changed. As we see later in the First Book of Samuel, Saul repented of the evil he was planning to do and David and Saul were reconciled.

5) All of us are called to act in a similar way. Even when people are treating us badly, speaking ill of us, trying to harm us, even if some were — God forbid! — trying to hunt us down and to kill us, Jesus calls us to remember like David that each of those malefactors is made in his image and likeness. If they’re Christians, they, too, have been anointed by God through the sacraments, no matter how far they have fallen from the graces they received. Like David, none of us can raise our hand against one of God’s children and be guiltless. If we, like David, refuse to descend to their level but rather treat them with mercy and try to raise them up to our level, to Christ’s level, then they, like Saul, may convert. Said in another way, others may consider us THEIR enemies — just like some made Christ their enemy — but Christ calls us not to consider them OUR enemies, but rather to love them, to do good to them, to bless them, to pray for them, and to forgive them. This is the way we make the transition from the “old Adam” that St. Paul talks about in the second reading to the “new Adam,” from one who lives by worldly standards to one who lives by Christ’s standards.

6) But Jesus doesn’t stop merely by calling us to live up the standard he himself lived and told us to follow. He then says something absolutely breathtaking: that we, for our part, SET THE STANDARD by which we want GOD to treat us. “The measure with which you measure,” Jesus declares, “will be measured back to you.” If we’re merciful to others, God will be merciful to us. If we forgive, we’ll be forgiven. If we’re generous with others, God will be generous with us and bless us abundantly with “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over… put into [our] lap.” Jesus says that there will be a correspondence between our actions and God’s, for good or for bad. “For if you forgive others their trespasses,” he says in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt 6:14). The Father will treat us by the standard we adopt. If we wish to be forgiven by him, we must forgive others. If we wish not to be condemned by him, then we must not condemn others. If we wish to be loved by him even when we sin against Him, then we must love others even when they sin against us.

7) So there are two standards. The first is the standard Christ sets for us. The second is the standard we set for God. God loves us with unconditional love and calls us to love others with unconditional love. If we choose, however, to love others conditionally — to do good only to those who are good to us, to forgive only some, to condemn those who we think deserve it, to retaliate when someone harms us — then Jesus tells us that that is the measure we will receive. This truth is not an exception to God’s unconditional love for us; he still loves us even when we are “ungrateful and wicked” and never wishes to condemn us. It is, in fact, one of the supreme illustrations of the Father’s unconditional love or us, that he gave us the freedom to choose to reject that love. When we do, it’s not that he no longer loves us unconditionally, but rather we refuse to let his unconditional love live in us and grow. We refuse to receive what he wants to give us. That is why the measure we measure out to others will be measured back to us: the only way for us to receive the full measure of God’s unconditional love, to have our laps filled to overflowing with his graces, is by our opening ourselves up to receive them loving others unconditionally. If we don’t live according to Christ’s standard of love, if we don’t sacrifice for those who hate us, bless those who curse us, do good to those who mistreat us and forgive those who wrong us, then we close ourselves off to God’s greatest blessing. The only way we can experience those blessings is by following Christ along the narrow, uphill, challenging path of real self-giving love. Christ calls us to live by his standard of love precisely so that in doing so we will be able to receive from the Father in return the full measure of the his love!

8 ) The Season of Lent which begins on Wednesday is a tremendous gift on God’s part for us to examine our conscience about the standard by which we live and love. Jesus wants us not to compare ourselves to others in the world, but to compare ourselves to Him, and, with the help he always provides, to model our lives on the way shown by Him. This is a very high standard. Each of us — if we’re honest enough to admit it — has fallen short of it. But this week and the season of Lent which is about to begin is a time for us to take Jesus’ standard more seriously, not to try to water them down as so many do, and to live according to it. As challenging as it is, Jesus never calls us to something that’s impossible to accomplish — if we rely on his help. Jesus says to us again today, “Love one another as I have loved you.” If we live by this standard, we will open ourselves to the fullness of his love and follow him along the thin, ascending path to true and eternal beatitude!