I don't want to get political. Hmmmm. But it would be a great way to make the point of this week's Gospel message. I have a better idea. I'll talk about Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. If you're not aware of where my allegiance lies, let's just say I grew up bleeding the black and gold of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers. When my son Joey moved to Boston after graduating from college I thought it might become a "problem" for us if he found someone from New England who liked the Patriots. Enter Liz. She and I are having fun with some good natured smack talk about our "hatred" for each other's beloved teams. I know this isn't real but I believe that understanding the dynamic might help us to embrace Jesus' difficult words in this week's Gospel.
Jesus said to his disciples: "You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
"You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:38-48
Jesus provides clear instruction as to His expectations. We are to go above and beyond. No it isn't supposed to be easy. In fact, to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect, is impossible. So how can we do what Jesus is asking of us? Context is very important here. This passage in Matthew lies near the beginning of a three chapter discourse of Jesus' teachings on various issues. It begins with the Beatitudes and ends with this phrase, "Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock."
Framed within those passages, the difficult command to love and pray for our enemies, becomes possible. We cannot live the way we are supposed to... without Jesus as our foundation. We can only go above and beyond in His strength. As Paul says in Philippians, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
So what does my rivalry with Liz and her New England Patriots have to do with this? The point is that this is not about the "team", be it sports, politics or religion. It is about the person. Just as I love Joey, Liz is the beloved child of her parents. More importantly, she is beloved of our heavenly Father, in spite of being a Patriots fan!
Okay, enough with the jokes. This is serious. Just as I need to look past the blue and red of Liz's Patriots jersey to the person inside, we need to ask Jesus to help us look past our emotions to our enemy's heart and soul. Jesus died for them as well. If I trust Him as Lord and Savior then I must rely on Jesus to give me the strength to love my enemies sacrificially as He does. God's love transcends all else. When we live in it, we truly can do all things!