Sunday, Feb. 24, is the Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C). Mass Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; Psalm 103: 1-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38.
Is Jesus serious? Does he really mean it when he says in today’s Gospel, “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you”? It is perhaps tempting to think of Jesus’ teaching here as a bit of hyperbole, that is, an exaggerated statement made for rhetorical effect. Were this the case, it would certainly make it easier to be a disciple of Christ — after all, this is quite possibly the most challenging teaching in the entire Gospel. However, given the numerous concrete ways of loving one’s enemies that he describes, and given his repeated insistence on forgiving them, it is apparent that Jesus Christ really does mean what he says. Moreover, this injunction to love one’s enemies is not intended only for those who will be leaders or ordained ministers in his Church; rather, it is intended for absolutely everyone who desires to be Christ’s disciple.
Yet, if it is the case that Christ really means what he says — that absolutely all of his followers are to love their enemies, do good to them, and pray for them — then isn’t he asking the impossible? Well, yes and no. While it is true that it is impossible for us as humans to love our enemies by relying on our own power, we are given the ability to do so through the grace of Jesus Christ. Christ enables us to fulfill these seemingly impossible commands through the life of grace that he has established in the sacraments; these visible and efficacious signs of God’s grace enable us to know and love God and to act on that knowledge and love by showing mercy to others.
This life of grace is also described by St. Paul in the passage from 1 Corinthians that we read today. In this passage, Paul offers a “protological” account of human nature; i.e., he describes how human nature is impacted by Adam, the first man (1 Corinthians 15:47-48; Genesis 2:7). Paul’s use of the term “image” (eikon) indicates that we resemble Adam in all aspects of our earthly existence, both positive and negative. Positively, we are like Adam inasmuch as we, too, are made in the image and likeness of God. Negatively, we inherit that same rebelliousness that was displayed by Adam in the first sin. Paul is emphasizing this negative dimension in today’s reading in order to stress our need for Christ’s salvific grace, which is the only way we can overcome the concupiscence (tendency to sin) we inherited from Adam through our earthly origin.
As Paul makes clear, however, we have a spiritual origin in addition to an earthly one — our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is the new Adam (1 Corinthians 15:47-48). Paul again uses the word eikon to explain that we resemble our spiritual origin just as we resemble our earthly one: “Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one” (1 Corinthians 15:49). In other words, by taking on flesh and becoming like us, Jesus Christ enables us to become like him. Indeed, the salvific life of grace transforms us into a new creation — a new image of our heavenly origin — and when we are so transformed, we are able to imitate Jesus Christ by complying with his commands to love our enemies and pray for them. Such transformation is never complete in this life, however; thus, we need to strive to cooperate with Christ’s grace so that in the course of our lives Christ might shape us definitively into his heavenly image, which, in turn, will enable us to live with him in the Trinitarian communion of love for all eternity.
Dominican Father Jordan Schmidt is an instructor
in sacred Scripture at the
Pontifical Faculty of the
Immaculate Conception at the
Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.