DO GOOD TO THOSE WHO HATE YOU, PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE AND SPEAK ILL OF YOU. These words of Jesus set out a program for life. Anyone who has experienced the fear, anger, anxiety, and other passions aroused by persons who make life difficult for us quickly learns how challenging this command of our Lord proves to be. Indeed, our natural reactions to those who show themselves to be ill-disposed to us by word or act lead us to feel like repaying them in kind, or to outdo them in their hostility. The law of Moses recognized this tendency quite frankly and eventually prescribed behavior calculated to treat it very realistically by imposing limits to the vengeance taken on one's enemy. Jesus here cites one of the provisions of the Torah when he cites Leviticus 19: 18: "You have heard it said: You shall love your neighbor and you shall hate your enemy.'" A little earlier Matthew has him also quoting a passage from that same book: "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (24: 19). The intent of this legislation was humanistic in that it seeks to set limits to the expression of hate and vengeance. When anger is roused, it happens all too often that a person feels justified in evening the score by actions which inflict greater harm than one suffered. The offender is seen as one who has lost all rights of equity. This law, on the contrary, sought to defend even the rights of one's enemy by imposing a measured response. No matter how strong the angry resentment, an offended person is held to restrict the response to what is proportionate to the offence.
Jesus, however, has a different norm. His law measures our response, not by the serious ness of the offence but rather by our dignity as children of God. His law will be established according to the requirements of eternal life shared with the Father whose nature it is to do good to all without distinction. This entails His care for those who offend him by sin. Human norms do not suffice for those called to belong to the household of God. We can be at peace and find fulfillment in God's presence only when we resemble Him in the measure of our possibility. As our Lord tells us in the final words of this passage" you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." He explains that such perfection entails not only forgiveness of injury but concern for the good of those who offend or threaten us.
Such behavior is possible only to those who are joined to God in spirit and in love. To assure such a response at those times when we are subject to fear or anger due to some serious injury received from others, we must uproot all disordered attachment from our heart and cultivate an intimacy with the Lord which alters our natural disposition to that self-love which seeks to gratify passion blindly without regard for consequences. Obviously, assuming such dispositions is the work of long and strenuous effort to purify the heart. Let us make it our program for Lent to advance in this work of the inner self. By our participation in the Eucharist, by fasting, through acts of kindness, and fidelity to holy reading we dispose our self to respond to the grace that the Lord does not refuse to those who seek Him in all truth, and thus to fulfill our Lord's command that we be perfect in love even as our heavenly Father is perfect.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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