Jesus said: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)
In this passage, Jesus describes two ways of acting. One is what he calls the way of sinners, which simply means those people who do not attempt to do what God asks of them. Today, we could call this the “ordinary” human way of behaving. It consists in being kind to those who are kind to us, of giving to those who give to us in return.
The eternal human tendency is to divide people into two groups—those who are with me, and the others, who are indifferent or hostile. Of course, there is nothing wrong with feeling closer to some people than to others. For different reasons, we all have more in common with certain people or groups. But when this leads to ignoring, criticizing, rejecting or even harming those who are not like me, it becomes a source of divisions and even wars.
Then, Jesus speaks of the other way of acting. That is God’s way, and it consists in “being kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” As we saw yesterday, God’s way is different from our human way because God is not changed by how the other responds. God is “impassible.” In other words, all God can do is love.
Now, what is new about the message of Jesus is not that God is merciful. The author of Isaiah 55 already knew this, and it is found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, centuries before Christ. What is new is not that God is merciful, but that we human beings can be merciful in the image of God!
Jesus tells us to be women and men who are truly in the image of God, able to love their enemies, to do good even to those who mistreat us, to give without expecting anything in return. How is this possible? Is it really true that human beings can be like God? Where do they get the motivation and the energy for this?
It certainly does not come first of all from the strength of our character or from our will-power. God can give without receiving because God is the Source of life. But we are not the Source. For us to keep giving, first we have to receive. And this is what is new about the Gospel. In coming to earth as a human being, the Son of God brought God’s Holy Spirit, the energy in person of his love, right into the midst of the human condition. By the power of the Spirit Jesus was able to heal the sick and forgive sinners. He was able to go to the point of giving his life for us on the cross, granting his forgiveness even to those who tortured and killed him. And after his resurrection, he communicated this same Spirit to his disciples.
As followers of Jesus, we become part of the community of believers animated by the Spirit of God. What struck those who encountered the first Christians was to see a community of women and men from very different backgrounds living together as brothers and sisters, sharing materially and spiritually, forgiving one another. Instead of dividing people into two groups, those inside and those outside, they welcomed everyone. They went towards others. They tried to live a universal solidarity. It was evident that the way they lived was different from the “ordinary” human way. And this attracted many people to them.
The same Spirit that animated Jesus and the early Christians is still offered to us. Yes, it is possible for us to live a life which is in the image of God. We can be merciful, as our Father is merciful. But we can only do this together, supporting one another, and we can only do it if we open our hearts to God in prayer so that little by little he can transform our way of thinking and acting. And then the impossible becomes possible.
Is Jesus describing a “utopia,” or have I seen examples of women and men who live in the image of God by loving unconditionally? When? Where? How?
What steps can we take for our communities and Churches to become places of universal solidarity, where the divisions of society find healing?