Thursday, September 11, 2014

Acting Righteously

In today's liturgy, Jesus begins the Gospel (Luke 6:27-38) by saying: "To you who hear."  He's not necessarily talking about hearing with the ears.  What He's really implying is: "To you who are able to understand."  Interpreting His words is necessary here because some of what He says in this Gospel passage is not meant to be taken literally.  

Indeed, we should love our enemies and pray for them because they too, like us, are loved perfectly by God.  But offering the other cheek after one has already been struck; or not demanding back that which rightfully belongs to you, these are the kinds of statements that require some reflection and discernment.  

We identify ourselves as Christians.  Obviously to be a Christian is to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second Person in the Blessed Trinity, and the Savior of the human race.  But Christianity, when fully embraced, is also a radical way of life.  It is a bit of an enigma to the current cultural status quo, and therefore, when practiced zealously, is deemed outlandish and outdated by cultural standards.  

When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan He said to John: "It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15).  Tirelessly laboring for what is right and just is an act of love and is crucial to the Christian way of life.  Therefore, literally offering the other cheek or not demanding back that which rightfully belongs to you isn't really a part of the formula for righteousness because one cannot justly offer that which has already been unjustly taken.  What Jesus seems to be suggesting is that if you're going to be His disciple, do not counteract with the same type of behavior.  In other words, two wrongs don't make a right.  

A huge part of fulfilling all righteousness is forgiveness.  Sometimes this can be very difficult especially when so many distractions foreign to Christian ideals tempt us to lean towards revenge.  Think about the things you do that would be considered radical, but righteous nonetheless.  Desiring to preserve the sanctity of life when abortion and euthanasia are legal -- now that's radical!  But this is certainly one of the major issues facing today's devout Christians.  

Jesus' words encourage us to persevere in holiness even though we're likely to be persecuted for it.  Our Lord said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth.  I have come to bring not peace but the sword" (Matthew 10:34).  Someone once said that if you love your enemies they'll hate you for it.  In others words, the end result of our laboring may not bring peace but in order to walk the Christian walk and talk the Christian talk our deeds must be exercised peacefully.  

And so, conducting ourselves in righteousness is what Jesus would have us draw from His words in today's Gospel.  He is not asking us to embrace some warped sense of pacifism or be foolish enough to encourage others to take advantage of us or abuse us.  Jesus says it best: "Love your enemies; forgive and you will be forgiven; for the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you."  

The only textual translation to expound on is: "Pray for those who mistreat you."  Mistreat is kind of general as one can mistreat another both verbally and physically.  The Greek, however, translates as praying for those who are "traducing" you, which intimates verbal assaults.  Of course, that is not to say that those who physically abuse should be excluded from our prayers.