In today’s Gospel we are being called to examine ourselves, our behaviors, and our attitudes. We are being called to love those who don’t love us. We are being called to do good for those who consider us unworthy, to bless those who withhold their blessing from us, and to pray for those who disrespect us and intentionally cause us harm.
A difficult calling indeed, is it not? Yes, a difficult calling for sure, but a calling that most of us have been made aware of from an early age. A calling that is so familiar it has been converted into an instruction and even given a name; it is called the Golden rule.
I am sure that most of us could share stories about how our mothers taught us to respond to the unkindness of this world and the subsequent mistreatment with gentleness and respect. When the grade school bully pushed us down or stole our lunch money, our mothers may have encouraged us to stifle our natural response to fight and kick and curse and instead encouraged us to respond with kindness and generosity.
As we grew older, we discovered that the adult world, in spite of its complexities, is still very much like our childhood school yards. As adults the bullies have additional titles such as boss, or neighbor, or fellow parishioner. With our mother’s voice echoing in our ears, “be kind, don’t fight, don’t kick, and definitely don’t curse” we struggle to show Christian love and charity to individuals who intentionally cause us harm and disrupt the peaceful flow of our lives.
Now, I admit and in fact admonish that it is essential to establish healthy and appropriate boundaries with individuals whose intent is to only cause harm. The Golden Rule comes with a caveat, does it not? It comes with an expectation. An expectation of how we should expect others to treat us. As clearly stated in today’s Gospel, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
The Golden Rule is not asking us to live without locks on our doors, or to willingly submit ourselves to the abuse of others, or to ignore the obvious warning signs of grave danger. The Golden Rule is not a license for others who wish to only take advantage and hurt. No, the Golden Rule is, for those of us who aspire to follow Christ, a challenge.
Today’s Gospel is not a defense for why we should only associate with Christians who share our same personal devotional practices, social leanings, or political opinions. Today’s Gospel is indeed quite the opposite. It is calling us to step outside of our echo chambers, to move beyond our comfortable and practiced acts of charity, and to expand our social circles to include those who look, speak, and think differently than us.
Today’s Gospel is calling us to step out beyond our safe and sacred spaces, to intentionally associate with those who exist outside of these walls. Christ did not call us to be a people who shelter and retreat and hide ourselves from the darkness, suffering, and pain of this world. Rather he expected us to be in the midst of it. To exist in the uncomfortable, with those who don’t cherish or honor or respect our faith.
Today’s Gospel is a challenge to evangelize. To set aside our criticisms and fault-finding and embrace the sinner and gently guide him or her into the loving embrace of Jesus and the forgiveness of God. Jesus reminds us that to be obedient to him we must be willing to take risks. Risks that make us vulnerable and it is in and through that vulnerability that we bring others to salvation.
Today’s Gospel must not be ignored. It must not be passed over with the false belief that today’s hard teaching regarding self-sacrificing charity is no longer applicable. To ignore the man on the street corner or the family struggling to meet their needs with the rationalization that the charity we give will only be spent on alcohol or cell phones, is to ignore the clear instruction that what we have to give was never ours to possess.
Today’s Gospel is an invitation to live in the freedom of Christ Jesus. A freedom that can only be found in the willingness to serve Jesus as we serve one another.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, today as you come before this altar, I encourage you to commit to living this Gospel…the Gospel… in all facets of your life. In your homes, at your work, on your playgrounds, and most especially in those uncomfortable places with unfriendly people. Live there, and serve Jesus there, because that is exactly where we are called to be.