Homily June 20th, 2023 

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time – Mt 5:43-48

            Today’s Gospel is surprisingly strong and forceful, more so than we might imagine at first. In fact, some have called this passage the heart and center of the whole preaching of the Sermon on the Mount. To understand why this is so, let us consider, first, what it is that Jesus commands, and, second, the reason for this.

            First, Christ’s words are well-known: 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. Greek has many different words for love, whereas English really only has the one. The specific word used here, though, is the verb form of agape. This love is the highest sort of love, and it’s important to note that it doesn’t mean just a love that we find between family members, or between lovers. Nor is it just a feeling, which can arise and disappear. Rather, agape love means a choice, the firm decision to have good will and practice charity towards a person. Not only must we choose to love, but we must also pray for our enemies and for those who hurt us. Nothing gets rid of feelings of resentment and anger as fast as praying for the offending party.

            However, what is particularly moving is the reason why Christ tells us to love our enemies: we can point out two phrases. First, Christ tells us we should love our enemies as you may be children of your heavenly Father; literally the text says sons of your heavenly Father, which is important, because Hebrew doesn’t generally use adjectives. Rather, the construction “son of” means someone full of a particular virtue. “For instance, a son of peace is a peaceful man; a son of consolation is a consoling man. So, then, a son of God is a godlike man. The reason why we must have this unconquerable benevolence and goodwill is that God has it; and, if we have it, we become nothing less than sons of God, godlike men.” There is nothing that resembles God, and makes us like Him, as unlimited charity. The examples Jesus uses makes this clear: for [God] makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. The sun rises and sets, and the rain falls, on the wickedest of wicked men, and on the saints. God treats them in the same way, as it were. The good He will reward later; the evil He must reward in this life, since, afterwards, He won’t be able to give them anything. God’s charity and love is truly amazing, and it is this that we are called to imitate by loving without limits.

            The second phrase that provides a reason for this unlimited charity is at the end of the Gospel: So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. At a glance, this doesn’t seem to be a reason, but, in fact, it is a most important one. “The Greek word used for perfect is teleios, and it has a very specific meaning. For instance, a man who has reached his full-grown stature is teleios unlike a boy or a child. A student who has reached a mature knowledge of his subject is teleios as opposed to a learner who is just beginning, and who as yet has no grasp of things. . . . .  In other words, a thing is perfect if it fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned, and designed, and made. In fact, the word teleios is the adjective formed from the noun telos meaning an end, a purpose, an aim, a goal. A thing is teleios if it realizes the purpose for which it was planned; a man is perfect if he realizes the purpose for which he was created and sent into the world. . . .  For what purpose was man created? The Bible leaves us in no doubt as to that. In the story of creation we find God saying, ‘Let us make man in our image after our likeness.’ Man was created to be like God, and the characteristic of God is this universal benevolence, this unconquerable goodwill, this constant seeking of the highest good of every man. The great characteristic of God is love to saint and to sinner alike. No matter what men do to him, God seeks nothing but their highest good.

It is when man reproduces in his life the unwearied, forgiving, sacrificial benevolence of God that he becomes like God, and is therefore perfect in the New Testament sense of the word. To put it at its simplest, the man who cares most for men is the most perfect man.

It is the whole teaching of the Bible that we realize our humanity only by becoming godlike. The one thing which makes us like God is the love which never ceases to care for men, no matter what men do to it. We realize our manhood, we enter upon Christian perfection, when we learn to forgive as God forgives, and to love as God loves.”[1]

We know that oftentimes family members all resemble each other; sometimes we can even pick out members of a family that we’ve never met before because we recognize characteristics or traits in them. We can ask ourselves: from our actions, can people recognize us as children of the Father? How well do we imitate this limitless love of God with our families, friends, neighbors. . . .  Do we try our best to love as God loves, or do we fall short?

Today, let us pray, through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Charity, for the grace to forgive and to love as God loves.


[1] See Barclay’s commentary on this passage.

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