Our culture tends to value a show of strength and tends to assess our strength by the amount of force we have. When someone hurts us, we are expected to fight back. We say the anger is justified. We say that the only way to teach the wrongdoer a lesson is to hurt them, get even. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. modeled a different response, that is, nonviolent resistance. Instead of fighting fire with fire when provoked, they turned the other cheek.
Anger and hatred can poison our hearts when they are left to fester. Some would say it’s better to release them. But releasing these emotions does not overcome them and it can escalate the situation. Jesus calls us to cleanse our hearts of negative emotions. Last week we heard him tell us to replace anger with the determination to be reconciled with one another. Today we hear him tell us to replace hatred with love. We are challenged to be countercultural.
We hear some hard sayings in today’s readings. The Lord told Moses, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” Jesus says, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How can we be holy or perfect? Isn’t that too much to ask of anyone? Let us recall that we are created in the image of God and that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Though we have sinned, we are still temples of God. God desires that we allow the Spirit within us to shine through our sinfulness.
We sing alleluia as an acclamation of joy to greet our Lord as he speaks to us in the Gospel. But in a few days we will pause this joyous exclamation. On Wednesday, Lent will begin, and we will take our annual opportunity to focus on our sinfulness, our need for forgiveness, and the sacrificial suffering and death of our Lord. May we take advantage of this holy season to grow in the risen Lord’s love, even to the point of loving our enemies.
Love, Peace, Joy,