‘But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.’
— Luke 6: 35

Today’s Gospel passage continues with Jesus’ teaching in Luke (6:27-38). It contains a very challenging teaching. Jesus begins with love of our enemies, continues with admonitions to do good under unjust circumstances, and then finishes with telling us to love, lend and be kind, expecting nothing in return. Each of the scenarios he describes goes against the grain; they seem unfair and even foolish.  We may think: ‘Don’t I have a right to defend myself?’ ‘Don’t I have reason to withhold things from people who will misuse them?’ ‘Shouldn’t I have a guarantee to receive back what I lend out to others?’

If this Gospel makes us uncomfortable, it is important to realize that Jesus knew that it would. And he taught it anyway. What, then, are we supposed to do about it? The first is to recognize the why of Jesus’ teachings: “(L)ove your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” The goal is to form our hearts in mercy. 

The second step is to realize that God’s kindness toward the ungrateful and the selfish is kindness toward all of us. Jesus is holding up a mirror for us. We all have areas of self-centeredness and ingratitude. It’s not “somebody else” he’s talking about.  We have to see ourselves as able to become better. In truth, no matter how egotistical we may be, we do not have to stay that way. What would that look like? 

Our first reading today from 1 Samuel gives a little story from the time of strife between Saul and David (1 Sam 26:2,7-9,12-13,22-23). Saul is hunting down David because Saul has become consumed by envy and rage against him. At a moment when Saul is totally vulnerable, when David could kill him and put an end to the conflict, besides taking the throne which is rightfully his, David refuses to stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed (Saul). Despite Saul’s maniacal pursuit of David, the future king refuses to hurt him. Perhaps to us such a scenario is fanciful and exaggerated, but the principle at work is the same one Jesus articulated in the gospel: “[D]o good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” David was able to do this; he could have killed Saul, and he had every reason to do so. Yet, he refused to do it. 

The transformation of heart that is necessary to go from receiving the goodness of God with ungrateful hearts and an exaggerated opinion of the self to being merciful as the Father is merciful happens through living life in union with Christ. In today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 15:45-49), the path of this transformation is succinctly summed up by Saint Paul. Christ became a life-giving spirit, Paul writes, and: “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” This, of course, happens when we listen to what Jesus says and put it into practice. 

My challenge for you this week is to take one of Jesus’ teachings and put it into practice. Give something to someone without expecting even a thank-you. When someone does something that makes you angry, don’t respond in anger—not out of passivity, but out of a choice to think for an instant of how Jesus wants you to respond, and then do it.