7th Sunday Ordinary Time – Homily (Fr. Smith)

The people and world to whom Jesus gave the injunction to love their enemies and to do to all as they would have done to them is remarkably different from those to whom St Luke wrote. Still more different from us who are in this Church today, yet its message is crystal clear to all if desired by few. Let us see why we both need it but do not want it.
Jesus spoke to Palestinian peasants for whom the enemy would have been the Romans and the golden rule of doing to others what they would want done to them would have been directed to people of similar limited means and prospects. Luke wrote to people who were themselves Romans and would have had position and possessions. The scriptures tell us of a man who had many possessions who when he heard Jesus’ command to give them up, became sad and walked away. Luke is a man with many possessions who heard the same message, was filled with joy, and followed Jesus. We saw a source of this joy in last week’s beatitudes. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” He understood that what we have must be defended and to have nothing is to have nothing to defend and be free of anxiety and cares of stuff
He is writing to people, both his original audience and ourselves, who will not give up our possessions but would like to know how they, if not a blessing, will not become a woe. His message could not be clearer or more relevant.
… 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).
These words are eternally true but especially pertinent in the age of social media. It is so easy to express hateful thoughts. I say this as someone with no footprint in Facebook, Instagram, twitter, and the like. This was originally not for any moral or even technical concern; I simply didn’t want to broadcast how boring my life was. But now I just don’t want to be exposed to any more hatred than I must. Yet, even without a social media presence I am sent selections from media outlets which call themselves Catholic which are truly vile and hateful.
You do not have to be Catholic to experience this. Our politics have become toxic and divisive. We do not share the same facts and are increasingly living in different worlds. People we might once have seen as honorable opponents can so easily be treated as hateful enemies. Woe to us who are rich in opinions and burdened by speculation. These are as much possessions as property and investments and they offer even less consolation and no peace.
Jesus’ message frees us as it did people 2000 years ago: love those who have become our enemy. Bless those who may be cursing us and pray for those who may well wish to mistreat us. This alone is the way to peace and the blessings which following Jesus offers.
Luke though has a more specific message for the members of his class. If we compare this section with the parallel from St Matthew, we discover that Matthew is speaking about religious practices and Luke is taking about money.
Early converts to Christianity took many risks depending on where and when they entered. For Jews there was the likelihood of being expelled from their families and the loss of civil protection. Jews were exempted from the law to worship the emperor. Once they became Christian, they were subject to the death penalty for “atheism.” Prominent citizens who became Chistian faced social ostracism and a distinct loss of status. As is usually the case, however, poor people who made such a radical change in life were the most vulnerable. They could have lost their support system and become dependent on their new community, the church.
Lukes’s readers are reminded of their responsibility: do not lend, give outright and do not be stingy: For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
Put some gold behind the Golden rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” When the comfortable became Christians, they took on some vulnerability, Luke is exhorting them to recognize the far greater vulnerability of others and to assist them.
This love is mercy. But it is the Jewish understanding of mercy not our contemporary one.
Mercy for us often has the sense of a person of superior status condescending to someone of an inferior one. A creditor may show mercy to someone in his debt by reducing the amount owed. A judge might have mercy on a young offender. These are good things to be sure but it not what the Jews meant by mercy
Mercy comes from the same root as womb. Mercy is the recognition that people share the same life. Our idea of compassion – suffering with – comes close but is not as physical. St Matthew writes that we should “Be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect.” This is a legal idea of doing one’s work well. St Luke says, “Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful”.
The Father has not kept anything back from us. He is sharing “womb love,” his very life, his very son. In this he shows us the way to truly live. Luke reminds us today that God himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. This is unimaginable for a well-brought-up Roman, indeed he would have seen it as vice not a virtue. But that is a great theme of Luke, Jesus turns the world upside down. He calls us to direct our attention, indeed our very lives outside of ourselves. This is the challenge of the Golden rule and the mercy that comes from it true charity points not to the earthly donor but to our heavenly Father.