Up to now I used to prepare my homilies on Sunday, since both Masses I had to celebrate were on Sunday. Now that the Mass for the troops has been anticipated on the previous evening, I have to prepare my homily on Saturday. So I can post it in advance. Maybe, it can be helpful for some fellow priests.
In today’s gospel we find the continuation of the antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount. Last Sunday we read the first four antitheses; today, the last two. We were pointing out that, when Jesus quotes one of the commandments, he extends and deepens the meaning of that commandment; on the contrary, when he quotes subsequent adaptations of the law, he rejects them and goes back to the original intention of God. Well, we find this different attitude of Jesus even in the last two antitheses.
In the first case, Jesus quotes a rule that we actually find in the Old Testament, the so called lex talionis or “law of retaliation” (“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”); but it cannot be considered as a commandment of God. It was rather a human law, that today we consider barbarous; but at that time it was a development against the “law of the jungle,” since it limited and regulated revenge and retaliation. Jesus is not content with these limitations either; he invites us not to resist evil at all. Indeed, “when someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” What Jesus requests of us could seem crazy; and yet it is wiser than any human prudence. Have you heard what Saint Paul says in the second reading? “If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.” But there is no need of Paul to understand that the real folly is not meekness, but rather violence. Experience should teach us that vengeance has never solved a problem.
In the second antithesis, we have to distinguish. Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” The first part of this quotation in not one of the ten commandments, but one of the most important commandments in the Bible. We have heard it in the first reading. If you remember, Jesus considered it the second commandment, after the first and the greatest, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The second part of the quotation (“You shall … hate your neighbor”) is not written anywhere in Scripture; it was just a free interpretation of God’s commandment on the part of the scholars of the law. For them “neighbor” did not have a universal meaning as for us; “neighbor” was understood in its literal meaning, that is, “people who live next to us or near us.” So, for the Jews, “neighbor” were only those belonging to their people; all others were considered enemies. And if they had to love their neighbor, they had also to hate their enemies. On the contrary, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. It could seem that Jesus is expecting the impossible of us: how can we love enemies? Be careful, Jesus is not asking us to love our enemies as we could love our friends, that is to say, feeling the same emotions we feel for our loved ones. Jesus is simply saying to us not to hate them, to want and to do good to them. It is meaningful that, soon after saying “love you enemies,” Jesus adds “and pray for those who persecute you.” Actually, most of the time, the only thing we can do for our enemies is to pray for them.
Why should we love our enemies? So as to be children of God. For God, who is the Father of all, all his children are equal, bad and good, just and unjust. He treats all in the same way. If we want to be his children, we have to behave like him. Jesus is really demanding; he expects his disciples to be like God: “Be perfect (estote vos perfecti), just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How on earth can we be perfect? Exactly because God is perfect, and can make us perfect like him. Even in the Old Testament God expected holiness from his people: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” God does not keep holiness for himself; he wants to share it with us. He, who was able to create us, has also the power to make us holy, like him. God does not confine himself to give orders; but, along with them, he also gives the grace to accomplish them.