Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Against minimalism
Today’s readings: 1 Samuel 26, 2.7-9.11-13.22-23; 1 Corinthians 15,45-49; Luke 6, 27-38.
Today’s text from Luke’s gospel can put us off and create reactions of resistance in us. Jesus is setting high standards in community relationships that go far beyond the usual golden rule of love your neighbour as yourself. Instead, here he is saying: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.”
This demonstrates that at the time of writing, St Luke knew that there were those who, in fact, were hated, scorned, set aside, reviled and cursed. In this context St Luke specifies what can be so prophetic about community living by those who claim to be Jesus’ disciples. He sets new and higher standards for relationships that go far beyond mere reciprocity.
This was no easy talk for the early Christian communities and it is no less hard for us today, particularly when these words of Jesus can even lend themselves to misinterpretation. We live in times when violence is still rampant and reaches us in real time whether it is from war zones or in the intimacy of family life or even so frankly diffused through social media.
Violence poisons our social networks and we can never afford to seem to be condoning it. The question posed to us by today’s gospel is whether Jesus is condoning violence when he apparently exhorts victims to remain victims and abusers to remain abusers. Loving one’s enemies, doing good to those who hate us and praying for those who treat us badly may at face value render us the more vulnerable and the perpetrator the more violent.
Yet we cannot forget that it is Jesus speaking, and as Jean Vanier writes, “the fragility of Jesus offers something extraordinary: a new love and liberation of the heart”. Jesus implies that violence breeds violence and that the only remedy to stop the spiral is love and forgiveness.
In line with the second reading, the words of Jesus put the logic of the spiritual man against that of the earthly man. We all live within a carnal logic which may easily cage us and block our growth and maturity, hindering passage from the earthly to the heavenly.
Conventional Christianity’s recipe to increase numbers in the wake of the Constantinian Church was to lower standards and pitch the demands to be a member of the club to minimalism. For centuries, to be a Christian it sufficed to go to church on Sunday, to abide by certain rules and practices, and to accept church teachings at least notionally. Over the centuries, the outcome of this was nominal Christianity, with increasing numbers crowding our churches and making us happy all in all.
This brand of Christianity is hardly recognisable in today’s gospel. Luke is re-proposing Jesus’s demands on his disciples in their entirety. At this point in Luke’s gospel we have a decisive turn, with Jesus first setting the Kingdom’s basic perspective with the Beatitudes, and now developing the proper understanding of the law of love by which a community lives.
The ethical standards set by Jesus are remarkably high, sounding almost idealistic or unreachable. The norm of reciprocity established a certain ethical minimalism, but here, what is being demanded is a standard of excellence. Repeatedly Jesus affirms that if you are minimalist, “What thanks can you expect?”, what sort of credit is that to you?
This is a clear call on us to refrain from diluting further the essence of Christianity and to boldly repropose love and forgiveness as the right therapy to heal the world and strengthen the social fabric of our societies.