7 Sunday A - Be Holy, Be Perfect - Homilies

Note: Fr Bill Grimm's Video Message at the Bottom
 “He couldn't fight, either.”  
One day a truck driver stopped at a restaurant for dinner and ordered a steak. Before he could eat it, in walked a motorcycle gang, with dirty leather jackets and long, unkempt hair. They took the man's steak, cut it into six pieces, and ate it. The driver said nothing. He simply paid the bill and walked out. One of the gang members said, "That man couldn't talk. He didn't say a word." Another one said, "He couldn't fight, either; he didn't lift a hand." A waiter added, "I would say that he couldn't drive either. On his way out of the parking lot, he ran over six motorcycles crushing all of them." Something in us loves that story, because we like retaliation. But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus prescribes forgiving love as the Christian trump card.

 Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

Friends in Christ, we — as the community of the baptised — are called by God to provide the world with an example of a different way of living life. Around us we hear every day of people waging war or getting ready to wage war or waging war to make peace or waging war to prevent war. We often hear the same language in our businesses and in our workplaces. The motto seems to be: grab, grasp, exploit. But we are called to wage peace. We are called not just to be peaceful, but to actively work in a way that builds up peace, honesty, respect for other and the creation. To say we are Christians is to say that we have volunteered to wage peace in our homes, in our work, and in our world.

Textual comments

Let us look first at verses 38 to 42.
Jesus wants us first of all to reject the false notion that we must relate to others only as they treat us. This would go against what he taught us by words and by example.
He gives us some positive teachings on three situations: “Offer the wicked man no resistance. If one hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other. If someone takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone orders you to go one mile, go two. Give to anyone who asks and if anyone want to borrow do not turn away”.

These are clearly difficult passages to interpret. We must however continue looking at them over and over again until they begin to make some sense to us. We must not stop our work until this comes to be true, to happen to us also.
To understand what this section means, we must therefore try and find out what is in the mind of the person who hates us. There are two answers we can think of.
- The first is that the person does not like us. There are things in us that he prefers not to see.
- It could also be that he likes us and there are things in us that he likes and admires but he cannot say why or how.
There must be a reason for it and it is up to us to find it. The question is what does he want, what is deep in his heart, what is his general attitude?
We then turn to the second half of the passage – verses 43 to 48.
Jesus starts off by saying that we need to go against the old commandment that we know and love. “You have learnt how it was said”. The statement said, “you must love your neighbour and hate your enemy”.
He gives three positive teachings to show how we can go against this.
The first is to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. In this way “we will be sons and daughters of our Father in heaven”. The reason is obvious. He is kind to both people: “The sun rises on bad as well as good,”  “His rain falls on all alike.”
He then goes on to ask the question. “If you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even tax collectors do as much, do they not? What about greetings for your brothers and sisters? Even the pagans do as much, do they not?”
Jesus’ own conclusion is there, clearly stated. “Be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect”. God does not link his gifts to how people feel about him. So too we must do the same to one another.

Michel de Verteuil
General comments
As always, it is important for us to stay with the words of the text we are given.
In this passage Jesus tells his disciples that they must be guided entirely by him and by his message, not by what is said in the culture at large.
Jesus was aware of the problems of his followers. Some of these were personal, others were more general; others again were general defects of the culture.  We too, in our time, must be aware of this as we make choices and decisions day by day.
Jesus starts with two  sayings, or teachings – something that was “said to our ancestors”. Both are  well known to us: “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth” and “You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy”.
Jesus never wished to teach against the Old Testament. It is a point he makes quite clearly earlier in this sermon. “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets”, he said. “I have not come to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke shall disappear until its purpose is achieved”.
What Jesus was against was the fact that some people were misusing the law. He was anxious to change this for something better. He did not want “to abolish” the law but merely to “complete it” and he showed how his own interpretations would in fact “complete” the law.

Homily notes 
1. This gospel provokes a curious range of reactions.
2. There are many who would be prepared to lose their lives as martyrs for some aspect of the doctrinal content of Christianity, or a particular version of it, but who consider this call to break with the world’s way of power to be simply rubbish. In short, Jesus may be the divine Son of God as the creed professes, but this stuff about ‘loving enemies’ just has to be ignored.

3. Politicians have made a habit in recent years about’ going the extra mile for peace’ (how many people realise that the image is derived from this gospel?) and congratulate themselves that they are doing this; but they do so only in that they delay the threat of war! To go the extra mile for peace means fore­going the war option altogether, not simply giving an exten­sion to an ultimatum. Yet such politicians often wear their Christianity very publicly.
4. During the First World War chaplains with the British Army were ordered to provide extra services for troops as they were recognised as helping to build morale. However, they were forbidden to use New Testament passages such as this in the services lest it would undermine the will to fight and retaliate. But these were seen as Christian services nonetheless. It seems you can take Jesus, but skip this bit of the message.

5. Many people say that they cannot accept Christianity because they cannot ‘take the divinity of Christ’ or they cannot be­lieve the gospel because’ they cannot take the miracle stories’ or they cannot accept the church because of this or that doc­trine which they find ‘repugnant,’ and in each case these may be deeply felt and held difficulties. However, there are far fewer who find this vision of Christian behaviour to be their stumbling block – yet it is as much part of the gospel as any other teaching.
6. This gospel reminds us that some set of moral guidelines, but a wholly different view of the world. The call to conversion is to change our whole way of viewing life, not just to add or alter a few attitudes on this or that.
7. Peace, a world of peace, seems often to be a distant illusion ­an impossible dream. But peace is not some state that just happens: it has to be established. We know that wars have to be waged, vendettas have to be pursued, acts of retaliation have to be inflicted and prosecuted. These are all active verbs: waging war. And in every case there is a massive in­vestment of resources: human and material. But peace also needs investment of time, energy, emotions, money, skills. If you want peace, justice, development, reconciliation; then these campaigns have to be waged and actively prosecuted. Whatever world we build, a world of warfare and conflict or a world of development and reconciliation, it is going to cost us. It is one’s vision of the whole creation that decides which is the correct choice.
8. Here is a little slogan: Christians are called to wage peace with as much energy as others wage war.

John Litteton
Gospel Reflection

We all like our friends and we want to remember their birthdays and other special occasions. If they need our help, we are glad to be able to lend a hand, offer a listening ear, share our time or give some useful advice.
In contrast, we are not quite so kind to the people we dislike. If we really dislike them, to the point of hatred, then we may be tempted to treat them unjustly or, at least, damage their character by slandering them and gossiping about them. For Christiam, this type of behaviour is unthinkable, precisely because Jesus explicitly forbade it.
During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded his audience about the Old Law before taking them forward to the perfection of the New Law: ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’

(Mt 5:43-44).
This perfection was always to be found in the Law of God a]- though, until the coming of Christ, it was not properly understood by the Chosen People. But Jesus made it explicit. There could no longer be any mistaking the law of charity. If people wanted to follow Christ, they were required to love their enemies.
Jesus gave some practical examples of the love of enemies in action: ‘If anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well’ (Mt 5:39). Crucially, Jesus taught why he wanted his disciples to love their enemies: ‘For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not?’ (Mt 5:46).
According to Jesus, this is not sufficient. If we are kind to our friends and hate our enemies, or even if, not hating them, we refuse to be charitable towards them, we are doing no more than the pagans do. There is no merit in that. If we want to please God, then we are obliged to do more. We are challenged by the gospel to behave decently towards those to whom we are not naturally attracted. In short, we must love our enemies.
This teaching, which is unique to Christianity, is a reflection of God’s perfection. We know this because Jesus concluded this part of his sermon by exhorting his listeners to ‘be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt 5:48).

When we next receive a request for help, or when our opinion is sought from a neighbour or work colleague to whom we are not naturally drawn, let us remember Jesus’ exhortation and respond with kindness and generosity. There is always someone, in every social context, who is not popular, or who is difficult and unattractive. It is to these people that we are asked to respond in true charity with a kind word, a small gift, perhaps, or an offer of friendship. That will reflect, somewhat, the perfection of God in a world full of selfishness and conflict.
Scripture prayer

“Walk the dark ways of faith and you will attain the vision of faith.”   St Augustine.
Lord, we thank you for the great teachings which Jesus left us in this passage.
They are in many ways opposed to what we hear all round us
and deep down we know they are true.
“Not all are called to be hermits but all need enough silence and solitude in their lives  to enable the deep inner voice of our true self to be heard at least occasionally.”    Thomas Merton
Lord, teach us therefore to offer the wicked people we meet no resistance.
Remind us that when someone strikes us on one cheek
we need to ask the why they did it,
and we may find then we can offer them the other as well.
If they take us to court and would have our tunic
we wonder why and then, if it is necessary, we can let them have our cloak as well.
If they order us to go one mile, we need to go through the matter ourselves
and then we may find that we can go two miles with them.
Help us Lord, that we may give to anyone who wants to borrow and not turn them away.
“The essence of prayer is to be established in the remembrance of God and walk in his presence.”    Theophane the Recluse
Lord, help us to strive for perfection,
knowing that our heavenly Father is perfect.
Remind us that this really is the same as loving our neighbour
and praying for those who persecute us,
so that we can be truly sons and daughters of our Father in heaven,
he who causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good,
and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest alike.
Lord, if we love those who love us, what right have we to claim any credit,
even the tax collectors do as much do they not.
And if we save our greetings for our brothers are we doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not?

1.     Connections:

In today's Gospel, Jesus continues to take the Law beyond the boundaries, parameters and measurements of the official interpreters. 
Of course, nowhere in the New Testament does phrase “hate your enemy” appear -- the concept of “enemy” was an assumption on the part of the scribes and Pharisees, who defined an enemy as anyone not a Jew.  But Jesus challenges that assumption:  God’s love unites all men and women, on whom the Father's “sun rises and sets as well.”  However justified retaliation might appear to be, Jesus calls us to seek reconciliation instead of vengeance.
In the Greek text of Matthew’s Gospel, the word used in today’s text for love is agape.  The word indicates not a romantic or emotional kind of love we have for the special ones in our lives but, rather, a state of benevolence and good will.  The agape that Jesus asks us to have for our “enemies” means that no matter how much he/she hurts us, we will never let bitterness close our hearts to that person nor will we seek anything but good for that “enemy.”  Agape is to recognize the humanity we share with all people who call God “Father” — and it begins within our own households and communities.  

Despite the violence done to us, regardless of the injustice we have suffered, Jesus asks his disciples to take that first, difficult, awkward step to forgive.  Our first concern, as Jesus’ followers, must be God’s work of reconciliation: to love the unlovable, to reach out to the alienated, to dismantle whatever walls divide and isolate people and build bridges that bring people together. 
The real challenge of Jesus’ teachings on loving one’s enemies is not “loving” some group designated by a label based on politics, sociology or economics or “loving” some remote “sinner” we will never have anything to do with; the challenge of today’s Gospel is to love the people we live with and work with and go to school with, the people we struggle with, the people who annoy us (and whom we annoy).
 “To love our enemies” is not just to declare a cease-fire but to create and maintain an atmosphere where reconciliation is always possible and actively sought.  The Jesus of the Gospel instills within us a vision that sees beyond stereotypes, politics and appearances and recognizes and honors the goodness possessed by every human being. 

Want peace in the world?  Start with your sister . . .

In her memoir Marriage and Other Acts of Charity, Kate Braestrup writes about reading St. John’s letter on love with her little son Peter.  She writes:
“God is love, John’s Gospel tells us.  That’s a whole theology in three words.  The practical application of that theology — God is love — is nearly as simple.  Be as loving as you can, as often as you can, for as many people as you can, for as long as you live.  Why should you do this?  Because.
“It’s simple enough for a child to understand.  ‘I can do it,’ Peter said stoutly when I explained it to him.  ‘I can be loving toward anyone.  Even an ax murderer.’
“’Start with you sister,’ I told him.
“Start with your spouse.  That’s what I had to do.  Whomever you start with, it doesn’t end there.  Once I’d gotten the principle more or less down as it applied to [my husband] Drew, it quickly became obvious that the same could apply to other people, and not just the safely distant murderer who has taken the ax to a stranger.  The principle might also apply to the guy who swipes my parking spot at Shop-N-Save, or the telemarketer who calls at suppertime, or even — imagine this! — to my relatives!”
The real challenge of Jesus’ teachings on loving one’s enemies is not “loving” some group designated by a label based on politics, sociology or economics or “loving” some remote “sinner” we will never have anything to do with; the challenge of today’s Gospel is to love the people we live with and work with and go to school with, the people we struggle with, the people who annoy us (and whom we annoy).  “To love our enemies” is not just to declare a cease-fire but to create and maintain an atmosphere where reconciliation is always possible and actively sought.  The Jesus of the Gospel instills within us a vision that sees beyond stereotypes, politics and appearances and recognizes and honors the goodness possessed by every human being.  In the Greek text of Matthew’s Gospel, the word used in today’s text for love is agape.  The word indicates not a romantic or emotional kind of love we have for the special ones in our lives but, rather, a state of benevolence and good will.  The agape that Jesus asks us to have for our “enemies” means that no matter how he/she hurts us, we will never let bitterness close our hearts to that person nor will we seek anything but good for that “enemy.”  Agape is to recognize the humanity we share with all people who call God “Father” — and it begins within our own households and communities.  

2.     Andrew Greeley

This story need not be taken literally. Who was present, for example, to record the dialogue between Jesus and the devil. It is likely that Jesus did go into the desert to fast and pray before he began his public life and surely he had to agonize back and forth on the mission he would soon begin.

 He must have sensed that he would make a lot of enemies, Romans and Jews alike, and that, like many other prophets, he would have to pay with his life. He resisted the temptation, but he was tempted (and he must have confided this fact to others).

So too we will be often tempted
Once upon a time there was a young woman of about nine summers named Gwendolyn or Gwenny for short. She was a very devout and religious young woman. So when her parents told her that Catholics  gave up things for Lent and that her mother was giving up bad language and her was giving up martinis, she decided that she would give up ice cream which she dearly loved. WELL, even though she was severely tempted every time she went by the ice scream store, she stuck to her promise – and counted the days to Holy Saturday when she could start in again on her ice cream. Now the ice cream she loved most dearly were chocolate covered chocolate dove bars.
As Holy Week started she kept a close eye on the freeze in the kitchen fridge. Surely her Mommy would lay in a supply of Dove bars for Holy Saturday. But Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the freezer was bare, at least of Dove bars. Then when her mommy came home from the store on Good Friday, she piled all sorts of goodies into the fridge. Gwenny waited till her mommy went  upstairs and very quietly sneaked into the kitchen, climbed on the chair and opened the door to the freezer. She almost collapsed. Right in the front of the freezer were a half dozen dove bars. She closed the door so quickly that she almost fell off the chair. He ran off to the TV room with visions of chocolate ice cream dancing in her head. Three more times during the afternoon. She returned to the freezer, twice she climbed up on the chair, once she even removed the dove bar and smelled it. Then she quickly ran back to her room and cried. Why are you crying, Gwenny dear, her mother asked. Because I broke my promise to Jesus. I wanted to eat it, but I didn’t. If you didn’t you didn’t break  your promise. That was only a temptation. Temptations are not bad unless you give into them. Why are there temptations? Her  mother by quoting a poet,

“Why else do temptations come save that humans may meet them, master them, and still be pedestal-ed in glory."

 Oh said Gwenny.

3.     Fr. John Speekman

A few weeks ago I bought a Volkswagen Golf. Great car! Love it! Except for the indicator switch which is on the left hand side where the window wiper control should be. You’d think Mr Volkswagen would have … oh, never mind!

The point is that this little change has entirely brought me undone a number of times, especially in moments of pressure. Contrary to my instructions, my right hand continues to believe that it alone is permitted to turn on the indicators and habit is adamant there must be no change, no role reversal. To misquote St Paul: I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate.

Habit is a terrible prison because it runs so deep in us. Lately I’ve been trying not to say ‘Our Mass is ended; go in peace’. Someone reminded me the correct phrasing is not ‘our’ Mass but ‘the’ Mass. Do you think I can manage to remember the change? Only about once in every ten Masses – but I’ll get there in time because, like changing hands for the indicator switch, this change is only a very minor habit which will not require me to change my inner self.

If only every change were like that! But there are, as we all know from experience, habits that can only be changed by changing ourselves. Anyone who’s ever given up smoking or alcohol will know what I’m talking about. Changing these habits can be very, very daunting. They require motivation, will power, support from others and perseverance. They also require the virtue of hope: hope that the victory can indeed be won.

I gave up smoking 33 years ago and distinctly remember that horrible feeling of waking up to the awful realisation I could never put another cigarette between my lips again. It was like a death in the family. A dark void hovered over me which told me I would never be happy again. It was a lie, of course. Gradually that darkness began to break up and every now and then bits of sunlight broke through until, one morning, I woke up and knew I was free. And this brings us to the real reason for getting rid of bad habits and thereby changing our inner selves: so that we might be free.

So that a man might be free to love his wife faithfully Jesus last week taught that if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. In other words, learn to keep your eyes to yourself – become pure in your heart! How many of us have made a resolution to do this? How many have persevered in the struggle? Those who have will have experienced what St Paul really meant by the words: I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate.

So that we might be free Jesus says: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. How many of us have sincerely resolved to obey this command of the Lord? – to so change the inner composition of our unyielding, proud, revengeful hearts that we become capable of actually loving our enemies?

Lest we think this is impossible we should recall the opening words of last week’s first reading from Ecclesiasticus: If you wish, you can keep the commandments, to behave faithfully is within your power.

Naturally enough we will require the grace of God to achieve every inch of progress. Nothing is possible without God’s help and fortunately, he is always ready to give it.

There are so many areas of life we Christians blithely neglect, either because we think them unimportant or because we believe them impossible to achieve. How many prospective converts are turned away from a parish when they see the lack of inner conversion in parishioners who constantly gossip about one another; who judge others in their community with small-minded nastiness; who criticise whatever fails to meet with their personal approval?

Each of these sins is worthy of insertion into a good resolution to change.

The call to conversion is real; the need to respond is essential. Why? Because we are children of God and much of our behaviour is not worthy of our heavenly Father. Indeed, I imagine he would be ashamed to call many of us his children.

I have made a few resolutions in my life and some, like giving up smoking, I have kept. The Father has a resolution for each of his children and he requires that we give it our full attention. It is slightly more difficult than the one Mr Volkswagen requires of us but it's far more fulfilling: You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.


 From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1) "If I could talk face to face with the pilot who dropped the bomb":  A 33-year-old Vietnamese woman named Kim Phu placed a wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and delivered a short speech. Twenty-four years ago, when Kim Phu was only 9 years old, her picture was taken by an Associated Press photographer and it seared the conscience of the world. Her village had just been hit by a United States napalm attack. Her two brothers were killed instantly. Kim Phu's clothes were burned off her. In the photograph, this little girl was running, naked, in pain and terror. Last Monday in Washington, speaking to a hushed crowd, she made the following statement: "I have suffered a lot from my physical and emotional pain. Sometimes I thought I could not live, but God saved my life and gave me faith and hope. If I could talk face to face with the pilot who dropped the bomb, I would tell him we cannot change history, but we should try to do things for the present and for the future to promote peace." No retaliation! Just tough, wise love. That's the spirit of Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. It's the greatest power on earth. In the face of it, the devil trembles.

2) "The goal is reconciliation and redemption.”  Martin Luther King, Jr. would take this principle from the Sermon on the Mount and use it to revolutionize America. King used to say, "No man can pull me down so low as to make me hate him." The real goal, said King, was not to defeat the white man, but to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor and to challenge his false sense of superiority. "The goal is reconciliation, redemption, the creation of the beloved community." The words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount which Martin Luther King paraphrased, are totally out of step with our present world because our  world believes in retaliation. 75 percent of Christians believe in capital punishment because they think we can stop the killing by killing the killers. That's retaliation.

 From Sermon Illustrations:

Mark Twain once said this about the Bible: "I have no problem with those parts of the Bible I don't understand. It's those parts of the Bible I do understand that gives me fits." The passage that we are going to study certainly fits into that category.
This passage illustrates something I bet most of you have never thought about before. One of the easiest things in the world to do is to become a Christian. It is ridiculously easy. All you have to do is confess you are a sinner, repent of your sin, believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sin and was raised from the dead, and surrender your life to Him as your Lord and Savior; and you become a Christian immediately and instantaneously. There is not an easier thing in the world than to become a Christian. But at the same time, one of the most difficult things in the world is to be a Christian, and you're going to see that illustrated this morning.

What Jesus says is totally antithetical to the typical attitude in America. Years ago there was a bumper sticker that became rather popular that simply said two words: "I Want." Now that tag would fit on just about every car in America. We live in the country of "I want." I want my rights; I want my happiness; I want my way; I want my money.

Rights are considered as American as apple pie. This is a country where citizens have rights. The best known part of the Constitution is the Bill of Rights. I'm all for the right kind of rights, but today rights don't so much protect the innocent as they promote the guilty. If you're going to be a real Christian you're going to have to give up some rights...

Robert Valentine once compared Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft as presidents. He said, "The difference was that when you left Teddy Roosevelt's presence you were ready to eat bricks for lunch, and when you left Taft you felt -- what's the use." (Felix Frankfurter, Felix Frankfurter Reminisces [1960], 85.)  
We're hoping that when you leave church this morning, you're ready to eat bricks for lunch. But I hope you have something more wholesome.

Remember as a kid . . . you didn't want to go to bed while the adults were all gathered for something? You didn't want to miss out. You heard everyone laughing. Then you heard everyone talking in a low voice. What were they saying? What was so funny? You wanted to be in the midst of it too. You wanted to be a part of the fun and excitement, or what you perceived might be fun and exciting, even if it wasn't. In any case, you didn't want to be left out, while everyone else was "in."

The church was like that too once. Not too long ago, people wanted to be a part of the church so much they would purchase their pews a year in advance so that "their seat" would be waiting for them when they arrived, and they wouldn't miss out on any part of worship, or have to stand in the back to watch. Having your own pew meant you were part of the ones who "belonged." Others who couldn't afford a pew would gladly stand in the back or in the aisles if all the chairs were taken, or even watch from the outside if they weren't allowed in, just so they could be part of that worship in any way they could. And not too long ago, people in some denominations fiercely dreaded the status of being ostracized or shunned if it kept them from going to church, where they felt part of a community of worship. No matter what, you didn't want to miss out.

In late 2013, a new word was accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary to explain this kind of phenomenon. The word is "FOMO" - a short-hand acronym for the "fear of missing out"...


Love Your Enemy

In a sermon written in a Georgia jail and preached just after the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said this about loving your enemies:

After noting that hate is just as injurious to the hater as the hated, Dr. King says,

"Of course this is not practical; life is a matter of getting even, of hitting back, of dog eat dog... My friends, we have followed the so-called practical way for too long a time now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos. Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way. This does not mean that we abandon our righteous efforts. With every ounce of our energy we must continue to rid this nation of the incubus of segregation. But we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege and our obligation to love. While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community."

Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope: the Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., page 596, quoted by Chuck Queen, Love Your Enemies
What Christians Are Really Made Of

This text from Matthew makes me recall the words of C.S. Lewis, "Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is. If there are rats in a cellar, you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats; it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way, the suddenness of the provocation does not make me ill-tempered; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am."

Think about the reaction that Christ calls us to have if someone strikes us on the cheek. What kind of a person would that make us? To turn the other cheek and refuse to react with similar anger or malice shows the world we are Christian. So if what we do when we are taken off guard is the best evidence of what sort of person we are, let us pray our reactions show that we are good Christians!

Adapted from C.S. Lewis

Practice What You Admire

Once upon a time a prince was born physically deformed. He was known as the hunchback prince. His physical posture troubled him, because he knew a prince should stand tall and straight. One day he commissioned a sculptor to make a statue of him, not as he was but as he wanted to be. When the statue was completed, the prince had it placed in his private garden. Every day thereafter, he would stand before his statue and try to pull back his shoulders and stand tall. After some years, his physique matched the statue!

It is obvious, is it not, that the principle involved in this story is that what we admire, adore, greatly respect, and worship, we eventually become.

John Brokhoff, Old Truths for New Times, CSS Publishing Company
Going Beyond Duty: The Second Mile

Shortly after the battles ended the American Revolution, but before the peace had been negotiated, George Washington was with his troops in Newburgh, New York. But they began to grow very restless because they hadn't been paid. Washington had begged the Continental Congress to do what they said they would do and pay the soldiers, but they refused.
Well, some of the officers began to organize a rebellion. They talked about marching on Philadelphia, which was at that time the seat of the reigning national government, and overthrowing that government and letting the army rule the nation.

With the fate of America in the balance, George Washington made a surprise appearance before these officers. After praising them for their service and thanking them for their sacrifice, he pulled from his pocket a copy of a speech that he wished to read. But then he fumbled with a paper and finally reached for a set of reading glasses-glasses those men had never seen him wear before. Washington made this simple statement: "I have already grown grey in the service of my country, and now I am going blind."

Historian Richard Norton Smith wrote: "Instantly rebellion melted into tears. It was a galvanizing moment, and the rebellion..." and the rebellion was put down because they had seen before them a second miler. Becoming a Christian is one thing; being a Christian is another one. Every chance you get for the glory of Jesus, for the goodness of others, and because of the grace of God, go the second mile.

James Merritt, Collected Sermons,

What We Grab Also Grabs Us

Once there was an eagle which hovered over a lake and suddenly swooped down and caught a two-foot long fish in its talons. Slowly, the bird rose with its ten pound catch, but when it reached about 1,000 feet, it began to descend, until it splashed into the water. Later, both the bird and fish were found dead. Apparently the fish was too heavy for the eagle, but it could not let go, for its talons were embedded in the flesh of the fish. The truth is that what we grab, grabs us. When we grab alcohol, drugs, or sex, it grabs us and brings us down to death.

John Brokhoff, Old Truths For New Times, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.

Reconciliation: Refusing to Retaliate

It's a story that is repeated on every elementary school playground, nearly every day in our country. Two fourth-graders get into it during recess; something about "he did this, so I did that" and it kind of goes south from there. When they get back to class, Billy trips Joey. After lunch, Joey breaks Billy's pencil on purpose. When nobody is looking, Billy writes on Joey's desk, and later, Joey steals Billy's folder. After school, Billy and his friends face Joey and his friends, and they call each other names. Somebody gets hurt. Somebody else gets hurt worse. And then there is no telling when or if these conflicts will ever end.

Sound familiar? We have all experienced this sort of escalating pettiness and we readily admit that it is silly. But I would suggest to you that we can remove the names "Billy" and "Joey" and insert the words "husband" and "wife" and the story is much the same. Or we could insert the names of two rival high schools, or two rival companies, or "The Hatfields" and "The McCoys." Or Republicans and Democrats, or "pro-life" and "pro-choice," or Israel and Palestine, or America and almost any Arab nation you care to name. Conflict at any level is conflict. And if not preventable, most conflict is at least resolvable...but not until one side refuses to retaliate and instead decides to reconcile.

Steve Molin, He Hit Me First!
 A Christian Conception of Justice

The nature of men and of organized society dictates the maintenance in every field of action of the highest and purest standards of justice and of right dealing.... By justice the lawyer generally means the prompt, fair, and open application of impartial rules; but we call ours a Christian civilization, and a Christian conception of justice must be much higher. It must include sympathy and helpfulness and a willingness to forego self-interest in order to promote the welfare, happiness, and contentment of others and of the community as a whole.

Woodrow Wilson
 Love Your Enemies

Former Boston Red Sox Hall-of-Fame third baseman Wade Boggs hated Yankee Stadium. Not because of the Yankees; they never gave him that much trouble but because of a fan. That's right: one fan.

The guy had a box seat close to the field, and when the Red Sox were in town he would torment Boggs by shouting obscenities and insults. It's hard to imagine one fan getting under a player's skin, but this guy had the recipe.

One day as Boggs was warming up, the fan began his routine, yelling, 'Boggs, you stink' and variations on that theme. Boggs had enough. He walked directly over to the man, who was sitting in the stands, and said,
"Hey fella, are you the guy who's always yelling at me?" The man said, "Yeah, it's me. What are you going to do about it?"
Wade took a new baseball out of his pocket, autographed it, tossed it to the man, and went back to the field to continue his pre-game routine.
The man never yelled at Boggs again; in fact, he became one of Wades' biggest fans at Yankee Stadium.


In The Grace of Giving,  Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution, Peter Miller, who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and enjoyed the friendship of George Washington. In Ephrata also lived Michael Wittman, an evil-minded sort who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor. One day Michael Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die. Peter Miller traveled seventy miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor.
"No, Peter," General Washington said. "I cannot grant you the life of your friend."
"My friend!" exclaimed the old preacher. "He's the bitterest enemy I have."
"What?" cried Washington. "You've walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in different light. I'll grant your pardon." And he did.
Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata--no longer an enemy but a friend. 
Lynn Jost.