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LIVE IN THE PRESENT

Father Francis's picture
Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Mt. 5: 38-48

People who long for ‘the good old days’ do not share the spirit of Jesus, according to today’s Gospel reading. He was a true Son of Israel and remembered His heritage with gratitude, but He never expressed any longing for a bygone golden age. Not once but twice He said, “You have learnt how it was said,” and then He added, “But I say this to you.” He took two old commandments and brought them up to date. He was telling His disciples that it was time for them to stop living in the past and start living in the present.

Both commandments are found in the Book of Leviticus. The first, “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth”, was the law of limited retaliation. It allowed an injured person to take revenge upon the one who inflicted the injury, but stipulated that the revenge must be in proportion to the original injury. That commandment was changed by Jesus when He said, “Offer the wicked man no resistance.” That is the law of non-retaliation. It was new; it was modern - and it still is. Have you seen the bumper sticker that says, ‘I don’t get mad … I get even’? It advertises not only a spiteful person but also one who is woefully out of date. It represents an attitude that belongs to the ancient past.

The other commandment with which Jesus dealt says, “You must love your neighbour.” Added to that are the words, “and hate your enemy.” There was wide discussion as to what was meant by the word “neighbour” among the rabbis. Whom did it include? The most common answer was that it included the members of their own race and religion.

Jesus left no doubt as to His position in this matter. He swept all boundaries aside and included everyone. “But I say this to you: love your enemies.” That was new; that was radical - and it still is. How many of us have taken those words to heart? We care about our own kind, our families and friends, members of our own race, religion and social standing. That is the accepted norm of behaviour. But Jesus called it into question. “If you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not?”

Some people have the impression that Christianity is stuffy and old-fashioned, completely out of touch with the modern world. I am sure that we, in the Church, are partly responsible for that image. Our history books contain some sad pages. But the fact is we follow a Leader who is almost as far ahead of our time as He was of His own. He commanded His disciples to love their enemies. That is a radical idea that most people have never yet had the daring to try. How could anyone regard Jesus as old-fashioned?

His first followers were the most forward-looking group of people the world has ever seen. Saint Paul wrote, “For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.” (2 Cor. 5: 17) When they dreamed their dreams of tomorrow, they thought in terms of “a new Heaven and a new earth”. They called their sacred book the New Testament. On every page of it, you can hear people saluting the past, then leaving it behind, and turning towards tomorrow. They were convinced that the future belonged to Christ. He was not behind them, but ahead of them.

Lord Jesus, You are ahead of us today, just as much as you were ahead of your followers 2,000 years ago. We need to try and catch-up with You! Give us the help we need to stop living in the past and to start living in the present.

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