HOMILY THEME: Fight Fire with Fire

BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas


HOMILY: Lk 6:27-38

A parish catechist was teaching the Ten Commandments to her five and six-year-old children. She patiently explained the fourth commandment: “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Then she asked them, “Is there any commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?” One little boy quickly answered, “Thou shall not kill!”

This little boy knows too well the logic of this world. An enemy is to be dealt with as an enemy. But this Sunday, Jesus gives the most central and challenging teaching that runs counter to this logic: “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Lk 6:27-28). Turn the other cheek, give to those who ask, do unto others, lend without expecting repayment, judge not lest you be judged.

But why this teaching? Does Jesus want us to befriend our enemy, and do nothing while he continues offending us? Does he want us to be weak and timid, the whipping boy of the world? Not at all.

Love of enemies is based on the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Our enemy is also like us, another human being with weaknesses and prone to commit mistakes. That is why Jesus, in a positive formulation, cites the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk 6:31). We also have our weaknesses and mistakes. St. Augustine, therefore, gives us this important reminder: “There is no sin or crime committed by another which I myself am not capable of committing through my weakness; and if I have not committed it, it is because God, in His mercy, has not allowed me to and has preserved me in good.”

To love our enemy does not mean we have to embrace and kiss him. Rather, the best expression of this love is forgiveness. Jesus exemplified this when he prayed for his persecutors while hanging on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Lk 23:34).

One reason people find this teaching extremely difficult to accept is due to fear of being considered weak and cowardly. Ironically, though, to forgive – and thus, love – an enemy is not a sign of a weak character but of strength. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Furthermore, Jesus teaches us not only to avoid revenge and trouble. It is also an invitation to be magnanimous, to have a big heart like him. This word comes from the Latin words “magna” (great) and “animus” (soul). The Gospel enumerates some examples: to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who persecute us, to do the good without expecting any return, to be merciful, to pardon everyone, to be generous without measuring or calculating.

The story of King Saul and David in the first reading is a beautiful example of a magnanimous heart. The king hunted David, determined to kill him. But David was able to surreptitiously get close to the king while the latter and his guards were sleeping. He had the golden opportunity to kill King Saul. Yet he did not do so. His magnanimous heart, won him the respect and favor of the king. An English author, Willins Walcott, said, “He that has revenge in his power, and does not use it, is the greater man.” David proved to be the greater man than the king.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, magnanimity is a virtue closely related to fortitude, wherein the soul is willing to undertake great things. He even calls it ‘the ornament of all virtues” (Summa Theol., II-II, 129,1). A magnanimous person keeps his mind focused on high ideals and noble motives. He is not discouraged by obstacles, criticism or scorn. He is not concerned about what others may say, nor is he intimidated by a hostile environment. Hence, intrigues and gossips mean nothing to him. Taking revenge is farthest from his mind. He has deep respect for others, looking upon them as God’s children, capable also of attaining great ideals. The saints have shown us the true spirit of magnanimity. (cf. Fr. F. Fernandez, ‘Conversation with God’, v.3, pp.352 ff.)

And finally, this teaching of Jesus reminds us of our true and sublime dignity: “that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:45). And a contemporary author , Matshona Dhliwayo, adds, “Stars shine even for those who refuse to look up.”

God is love, and this love is universal, absolute and unconditional. He wants the salvation and happiness of everybody, good and bad. He does not want the sinner to die and perish, “for I find no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies… Turn back and live!” (Ez 18:32).

Now, Jesus poses to us the same challenge as that in the Parable of the Good Samaritan: “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). And for us who take up this challenge, he also gives the assurance: “then your reward will be great” (Lk 6:35), and “gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap” (Lk 6:38).

Fr. Mike Lagrimas

Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Palmera Springs, Susano Road Camarin, Caloocan City 1422

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