17 February 2007. The 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 6, 27-38 Going the Extra Mile
In the previous homilies about this passage from Luke’s Gospel, we have talked about what kind of love Jesus is asking us to have for our foes. We have said that Jesus used agape, the Greek word for love; thus it means whatever another person does to us (even if it is painful, hurtful, insulting, etc.), we do not allow ourselves to desire evil against them; but always their good. Agape does not mean we love them as we love our brothers or sisters (philia) or our lovers (eros), because it would be almost impossible for us to have the same affectionate feeling for an enemy. But to desire their good is possible, because love that is agape, involves not only the heart, but the will.
There are two things I want to share today. First, the commandment of Jesus differs from others such as Confucius, the Mahabharata 5, 1517 (Brahmanism), Udana-Varga 5:18 (Buddhism), Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29 (Zoroastrianism) or figures such as Epictetus, Socrates and Seneca. Jesus’ commandment is said in the positive: “Love your enemies;” and “Do unto others what you want them to do unto you.” You see, there is a difference. Christianity is not so much about avoiding bad things, but in actively doing good things. Let me explain. Supposing in an organization, there are two members who are not in speaking terms. Mark said that he does not want to involve himself in the rift between them, so he just avoided getting into their path. Patti wanted to bring both together to talk about their differences, by having both of them talk to each other. Unfortunately in the dialogue, the quarrel between them worsened. Who is the better Christian, Mark or Patti?
The second tells us that Christianity is about going the extra mile. Jesus said that if we love those who love us; if we do good to those who do good to us; if we lend to those whom repayment is expected; what credit is these to us? Even sinners do them. We are therefore no different from anyone at all. Here we see that Jesus is expecting us to be better than the ordinary person. It is not about accumulating a lot of work. It is not about the quantity of activities but quality of action. St. Ignatius of Loyola calls this the magis, the more. St. Francis Xavier said, “Do the little things excellently.” Thus the extra mile, the magis, the more, will make the Christian different from the rest. If the ordinary person loves those who love them, then the Christian will do more than just that: he or she will love his/her enemies. If the ordinary person does what is good to those who are good to them, then the Christian will still desire what is good even to the person who has hurt and insulted them. If the ordinary person lends to the person whom he knows can repay them, then the Christian will lend to those who may not be able to pay them back.
Let us then stretch this lesson. Thus, ideally, we expect more from a Christian. If the ordinary person is asked to clean the dishes, then the Christian would wash the dishes until they are squeaky clean; if the ordinary person is asked to clean the room, then the Christian would clean it better. If we do service to others, we do not therefore do it half-heartedly, but whole-heartedly. The Christian is not at home with mediocrity. The Christian is always on the look-out for the better way to serve God.
Thus, to love one’s enemies is going the extra mile. The Christian acts on it, putting all of his will to treat his or her foe with respect. Moreover, the desire to be better is not about competition especially when we compare our achievements with others. But the key is in the phrases, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” and in the second reading, “we bear the image of the heavenly one.” Thus, we work better because we would like to mirror the love and mercy of God. Just as God sends rain to both the wheat and the weeds, to the good and the bad person, so should we. After all, this is precisely what it means to be children of God. A child reflects one’s parents.