Thursday, February 15, 2007

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time C: "Love Your Enemies"

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Here's a reflection on the Gospel reading this coming Sunday (Feb 18, 2007). An edited text is also found in the SVD Bible Diary 2007 (all copies sold, I heard).


As the campaign period has begun (at least for senators), we hear again the oft-repeated saying in politics: "No permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permament interests." But enemies there are, and very often politics of greed and envy begets violence.

"You have enemies? Good", says Winston Churchill."That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." All of us have enemies. As the great Tagalog Filipino poet writes: Sa paligid ay maraming/ Mga kaaway na lihim ("The surrounding is full/ of secret enemies").

Even Jesus has enemies (Lk 19:27; Phil 3:18). Jesus does not then command his disciples not to have enemies but what to do when they have enemies. That is, "Love your enemies". In this Gospel reading, he gives three applications of the principle of love for enemies (vv. 29-30):

1) Turn the Other Cheek. Striking a person on the cheek is a form of insult as it is today. An insult is "sampal sa mukha" (a slap on the face). To shame him, the soldiers slap the face of Jesus (John 18:22). Turning the other cheek then is a dramatic and physical sign of non-retaliation that breaks the cycle of violence.

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At the funeral of the murdered Abra congressman, Chito Bersamin: Fr. Nilo Peig, outgoing diocesan administrator, is seen here presiding in the funeral mass. Abra is submerged in politically motivated violence earning the title, "the murder capital of the North". For an interesting and striking article on the violence in Abra, please click on this. May Jesus' command of loving one's enemies dawn in this first mission area of the SVD Philippines.

2) Do Not Withold Your Shirt. At that time, people usually wear two pieces of clothing, an undergarment and an outer garment. The outer garment is multi-purpose: to indicate one’s social status, to cover the head, to use as a blanket at night, to carry kneading bowls, and to serve as a pledge or collateral for one’s debts (Exod 22: 25-24). In this Gospel reading, loving one’s enemies is readiness to pay one’s debts by not withholding one’s outer garment. That’s a practical wisdom especially to those who have bunch of enemies because they don’t pay their debts!

3) Give to the One Who Asks of You. Those who ask are the poor, the beggars in particular. Loving enemies means then loving the beggars. During that that time (even today), beggars are considered practically as "enemies" because they are outside the circles of community and friendship.

This recalls an old story about St. Lawrence the Deacon. He was the treasurer of the Church of Rome in the 3rd century A.D. The Roman authorities, thinking that the Church was wealthy, commanded Lawrence to bring to them the Church’s treasures. After three days Lawrence returned. "Where is the treasure?" the Romans demanded. Lawrence led them to the entrance of the hall and threw open the great doors leading to the courtyard. Outside was assembled a great crowd of poor, beggars, blind, and crippled humanity. "Behold, the treasure of the Church," said Lawrence.

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