Sunday, February 24, 2019 - 08
Imitating the mercy of the Father in heaven
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us to read the scriptures with the same mind that You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the bible, You helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of Your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create silence in us so that we may listen to Your voice in creation and in the scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May Your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, may experience the force of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed the Father to us and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
Luke tells us (Lk 6:17-19) that as Jesus was coming down the mountain with the Twelve, he met a large crowd who sought to listen to His word and to touch Him, because power emanated from Him and it cured all. Jesus welcomes the crowd and speaks His word to them. The text of the liturgy for this Sunday puts before us a part of the discourse Jesus delivered on that occasion. In Luke’s Gospel, those to whom the discourse is addressed are “the disciples” and “a great crowd of people from all parts of Judea and from Jerusalem and from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon” (Lk 6:17). Perhaps these are Jews (Judea and Jerusalem) and pagans (the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon). In Matthew’s Gospel, this same discourse is presented as the New Law of God, as the Ancient Law had been proclaimed from the top of the mountain (Mt 5:1).
b) A division of the text as a help to the reading:
Luke 6:27-28: General counsels.
Luke 6:29-30: Concrete examples of the practice of the general counsels.
Luke 6:31: A summary of Jesus’ teaching.
Luke 6:32-34: Whoever wishes to follow Jesus must go beyond the morality of the pagans.
Luke 6:35-36: The root of the new morality: imitate the mercy of God the Father.
Luke 6:36-38: Concrete examples of how to imitate God the Father.
c) The text:
Jesus said to his disciples: “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For 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 do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) Which part of the text did you like best or touched you most?
b) Why did Jesus pronounce this discourse? Look carefully at the information in the text and try to draw your own conclusions.
c) According to you, what is the core and root of Jesus’ teaching?
d) How can we, today, in our consumerist and individualistic society, practice the morality proposed by Jesus? Or, what does “Be merciful even as your Father is merciful” mean today?
e) Did you find anything in the text that might be a reason for hope and courage?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to go deeper into the theme.
i) The context of Jesus’ discourse:
Luke presents Jesus’ teaching as a progressive revelation. Several times, from the beginning of his Gospel up to chapter 6:16, Luke tells his readers that Jesus taught the crowds but does not mention the content of the teaching (Lk 4:15,31,32,44; 5:1,3,15,17; 6:6). Now, however, after saying that Jesus saw the crowd that wished to hear the word of God, Luke presents the first great discourse that begins with the exclamation, “How happy are you who are poor!” (Lk 6:20), “But alas for you who are rich!” (Lk 6:24).
Some call this discourse “The Sermon on the Plain”, because according to Luke, Jesus came down from the mountain and stopped at a plain where He gave His discourse (Lk 6:17). In Matthew’s Gospel, this same discourse takes place on the mountain (Mt 5:1) and is called “The Sermon on the Mount”. In Matthew there are nine beatitudes in the sermon, which present a way of life for the Christian communities of Jewish origin. In Luke, the sermon is shorter and more radical and is directed towards the Hellenistic communities made up of rich and poor persons. The verses of the Gospel of the seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time present the core of Jesus’ teaching concerning the behavior of those who wish to be His disciples.
ii) A Commentary on the text:
Luke 6:27a: Jesus speaks to everyone.
From the beginning of the discourse until now, Jesus had spoken to His “disciples” (Lk 6:20). Here, in Luke’s text 6:27a, His audience grows and He addresses Himself to “you who wish to hear”, that is, His disciples who are that great crowd of poor and suffering people, coming from all parts (Lk 6:17-19) and to all of us, you and me, who at this very moment “hear” the word of Jesus.
Luke 6:27b-28: General counsels that define the new teaching.
The words that Jesus directs to this crowd of poor and suffering people are demanding and difficult: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.” These counsels of Jesus go way beyond the demands, which in those times, people learned from childhood from the scribes and Pharisees during the weekly meetings in the synagogue, that is, “love your neighbor and hate your enemy” (Mt 5:43). The new demands from Jesus go beyond this set and common morality, even to this day, and reveal an aspect of “greater justice” that Jesus requires of those who wish to follow Him (Mt 5:20).
Luke 6:29-30: Concrete examples of the practice of the new teaching of Jesus!
Jesus asks me to offer the other cheek to those who strike me on one cheek, and He asks that I do not reclaim it when someone takes what is mine. How are we to understand these words? Must the poor person accept when the rich person strikes him/her, when the rich person steals or exploits him/her? If we take these words literally, these counsels seem to favor the rich. But not even Jesus observed these words literally. When the soldier struck Jesus in the face, he did not offer the other cheek, but reacted strongly: “If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offense in it, why do you strike me?” (Jn 18:22-23). What Jesus did then, tells us not to take these words literally. Besides, the words that follow in the same discourse help us to understand what Jesus wished to teach (Lk 6:31).
Luke 6:31: A summary of Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus pronounces this revolutionary sentence: “Treat others as you wish them to treat you”. The best commentaries on this teaching are some comments taken from other religions. From Islam: “No one can be a believer unless he loves his brother as himself.” From Buddhism: “There are five ways in which a true leader must treat his friends and dependents: with generosity, courtesy, goodwill, giving to them what they expect and being true to his word”. From Taoism: “Consider the success of your neighbor as your own, and also his misfortune as if it were your own”. From Hinduism: “Do not do to others that which were it to happen to you would cause you pain”. In His teaching, Jesus succeeded in putting into words the deepest and most universal desires of humankind, the desire for fraternity, born of the will to wish others well completely selflessly, without trying to draw any benefit, merit or reward. It is in sincere fraternity, well lived, that the face of God is revealed.
Luke 6:32-34: Those who want to follow Jesus must go beyond the morality of the pagans.
What can we think of those who love only those who love them? Do we only do good to those who do good to us? Do we lend only to those who will repay us? In all societies of every kind, the members of a family seek to help each other. Jesus speaks of this universal practice: “Even sinners do that much!” But this universal practice is not enough for those who wish to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus is quite clear on this point. It is not enough! It is necessary to take a further step. What step? The answer lies in what follows.
Luke 6:35-36: The root of the new morality: to imitate the mercy of God the Father.
By His preaching, Jesus tries to change and convert people. The change He desires is not limited to a simple inversion of the situation so that those who are at the bottom go to the top and those on top go down to the bottom. This would change nothing and the system would go on functioning unchanged. Jesus wants to change the way of life. He wants that His followers have the opposite attitude: “Love your enemies!” The new way He wishes to build comes from a new experience of God, Father of love. The love of God for us is entirely gratuitous. It does not depend on anything we do. Thus true love desires the good of the other independently of anything he or she does for me. In this way, we imitate the mercy of God the Father and we become “children of the Most High, who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked”. We shall become “merciful as your Father is merciful”. These words of Jesus evoke the experience of God that Moses had on Mount Sinai: “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in tenderness and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6).
Luke 6:36-38: Concrete examples of how to imitate God the Father.
Do not judge, do not condemn, forgive, give without measure! These are the counsels that Jesus gives to those who were listening to Him on that day. These make explicit and concrete the teachings of Jesus in the previous verse on the merciful love towards enemies and on behavior as children of the Most High. It is the mercy that is shown in the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son and that is revealed in the life of Jesus: “Who sees Me, sees the Father”.
iii) Further information for us to understand the text better:
a) Bless those who curse you:
The two statements in the same discourse: “Happy you who are poor!” (Lk 6:20) and “Alas you who are rich!” (Lk 6:24) bring the hearers to make a choice, to choose options in favor of the poor. In the Old Testament, at several times, God places people in a position of choice between blessing and cursing. People are given the possibility to choose: “I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live” (Deut 30:19). God does not condemn. It is the people who choose life or death, according to their attitude before God and neighbor. These moments of choice are moments when God visits His people (Gen 21:1; 50:24-25; Ex 3:16; 32:34; Jer 29:10; Ps 59:6; Ps 65:10; Ps 80:15, Ps 106:4). Luke is the only Evangelist who makes use of this image of the visit of God (Lk 1:68, 78; 7:16; 19:44; Acts 15:16). For Luke, Jesus is the visit of God who places His people before the choice of blessing or curse: “Happy are you who are poor!” but “Alas you who are rich!” But the people do not recognize God’s visit (Lk 19:44). And today, in our world, whose greatest accomplishment is the growing poverty of so many, are we able to recognize the visit of God?
b) Those to whom the discourse of Jesus is addressed:
Jesus begins His discourse using the second person plural: “Happy are you who are poor!” – “Alas you who are rich!” However, present before Jesus on that plain, there were no rich people! Only the poor and suffering from all parts were there (Lk 6:17-19). But the text says, “Alas you who are rich!” In passing on the words of Jesus, Luke was thinking also of the Hellenist community of Greece and of Asia Minor in the 80s, 50 years after the time of Jesus. Among these there was discrimination against the poor on the part of the rich (cf. Rev 3:15-17; Jas 2:1-4; 5:1-6; 1Cor 11:20-21), the same discrimination typical of the structure of the Roman Empire. Jesus criticizes the wealthy severely and directly: “You who are rich, you are having your consolation already! Alas for you who have your fill now, you shall go hungry! Alas for you who laugh now, you shall mourn and weep!” This shows that, for Jesus, poverty is not a fatality, but the result of the unjust accumulation of wealth by others. The same may be said for this statement: “Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets!” This fourth warning refers to the converted Jews, that is, the children of those who in times past praised the false prophets. In citing these words of Jesus, Luke was thinking of the converted Jews of his time who used their prestige and authority to criticize openness to the pagans.
6. Psalm 34 (33)
“Gratitude that springs from a different view”
I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt His name together!
I sought the Lord, and He answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to Him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him,
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him,
and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good!
Happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!
O fear the Lord, you His saints,
for those who fear Him have no want!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
Come, O sons, listen to me,
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
What man is there who desires life,
and covets many days, that he may enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.
The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous,
and His ears toward their cry.
The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help,
the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous;
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
Evil shall slay the wicked;
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of His servants;
none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice what your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.