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Unpacking the Sermon on the Mount

We are in the midst of St. Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount with today’s Gospel (Lk 6:27-38). The Sermon might get more notoriety in St. Matthew’s Gospel, but the Lord’s words still pack a powerful punch through St. Luke. I’d like to do a little un-packing here with many of the strong and challenging phrases in today’s passage.

“Love your enemies”
This opening commandment gets attention of the Lord’s listeners which include us. This runs counter to what people had heard and thought before, so it is a revolutionary teaching. It sets the tone for the rest of the commands that follow here.

“Pray for those who mistreat you”
Have you ever done this? Most times, it really helps to soften the heart toward the other which is exactly what Jesus wants. It is hard to hate someone for whom you are praying. On rare occasions, however, if it stirs up too much angst and pain for the heart, it is prudent to stop praying for and thinking about the person and ask someone else to do it for you. Some people have asked me to do this for them.

“Offer the other cheek”
Bishop Robert Barron has an excellent video on turning the other cheek if you want to google that. He basically says that this means we shouldn’t leave the fight, but we shouldn’t fight evil with evil either. It means to stand your ground, not give in, and don’t
flee. This was the tactic of Rev. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and St. Teresa of Calcutta to name a few. It’s the third option in lieu of the common “fight or flight” responses.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you”
I have heard this so many times from you all that I don’t need to say much. It’s seems as though this is truly the Golden Rule of your lives.

“Lend expecting nothing back”
This was the main phrase that we discussed in Bible Study last week. At first, we said that this seems crazy and foolish. Why would you lend if you didn’t expect a return payment? And, we can’t just be giving away what we have, or we’ll have nothing left. But, then we realized that this phrase is used by the Lord in the same sentence as “love your enemies”. So, we started thinking that when we love our enemies, we know that they probably won’t love us back. It’s like we lend them our love expecting that our love won’t be returned. And, of course, matters of the heart are much more important than
matters of the wallet especially when it comes to people who have broken our hearts. In other words, it costs a lot more to love someone who won’t return our love (unfortunately this is God’s experience all too often). Nevertheless, we have to be prudent in how we lend our money (and love) just as I said we need to be prudent about praying for those who mistreat us.

“Stop judging”
This is what the culture tells us repeatedly. For this reason, I like to refer to this as the “non-judgmental generation”. I say it tongue-in-cheek because they
even though they preach it, they often don’t practice it. We Catholics are (mis)judged as harshly now as ever especially when the terms “bigots” or “haters” are cast our way. Being non-judgmental is a good principle to live by, as Jesus says, but it must be lived.

“Forgive and you will be forgiven”
We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us. God will forgive us as much as we have forgiven others. This is similar to the last line of the Gospel passage today, “the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you”.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”
This is more in the middle of the passage, but it seems to be the overall point. All of the other commands of the Lord are based in this and lead up to this one. In other words, this saying of the Lord is the heading for the entire passage, in my opinion. Everything that I’ve focused on here are ways that we can be merciful in extraordinary or extreme ways. Loving and praying for our enemies, turn the other cheek, lend expecting nothing in return, and forgiving are all imitations of the Father’s mercy. These are all things that Christ himself did, and He is the Father’s mercy Incarnate. God does all these things, so we should. This is what the Father’s mercy is all about. His mercy is always expanding, so our hearts should always be open to growing, too. If you’re not there with any or all of these commands of the Lord, please open your hearts. The Father wants to show His love and mercy through you.

May you know the peace of Christ,
Fr Greg

Living the Beatitudes

As Pope Francis has reminded us, it is in living the Beatitudes that we find the path to holiness. The Beatitudes are not a list of do’s and don’ts. Rather, they are a road map to finding our way to others and to the kingdom of God. It is when we enter into the human condition with all of its pain and sorrow that we discover again the creative presence of God guiding us to greater wholeness. Being poor in spirit? being meek and humble? mourning our sorrow and losses and walking with others through theirs ? hungering and thirsting for righteousness ? being merciful ? maintaining a clean heart ? pursuing peace ? daily taking up the challenge of the Gospel. All bring us into the mystery of humanity and indeed into the mystery of God. The pathway to our relationships and the blueprint detailing our responsibilities are revealed. Are we ready to roll up our sleeves and get dirty?