Flipping Our Expectations

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

Jesus has a way of turning our expectations on their heads. The Beatitudes from last week’s gospel reading are a perfect example. The world says being rich will make you happy. Jesus says blessed are the poor. The world says happiness is a full belly. Jesus says blessed are the hungry. The world says celebrity and popularity are measures of success. Jesus says blessed are those who are persecuted.

In this Sunday’s gospel (Lk 6:27-38), Jesus continues to stand our worldly expectations on their heads. Worldly wisdom says love your friends and hate your enemies. Jesus reveals to us a higher wisdom.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Lk 6:27-28

Our Lord says, “[I]f 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” (Lk 6:32-33).

It’s only natural for us to treat others the way they treat us. If people treat us with kindness, we are naturally disposed to be kind to them in return. If people treat us unjustly, we can easily become bitter toward them and want to treat them unjustly in return, so they can “get what’s coming to them.”

These may be natural tendencies, but Christ is calling us to something higher. St. Paul contrasts the human nature we inherited from Adam with the heavenly nature we have been given in Christ. “The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven. As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly” (1 Cor 15:47-48). Those of us who have put on Christ can no longer let earthly wisdom dictate our attitude toward others. We need to instead follow the divine wisdom Christ offers us.

Earthly wisdom says treat others the way they treat you. Heavenly wisdom says treat others the way you want to be treated. The highest moral code earthly widsom can offer is do no harm. The moral code of the Christian is do good. See the difference? One is passive and self-centered. The other is active and other-centered.

Christ teaches us to love as God loves. “Love your enemies,” he says, “and do good to them… 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.”

Think about how God loves even those who hate him. He has the power to wipe sinners out of existence. Yet he continues to love them. In fact, God loves sinners so much that he sent his only begotten Son to die for their redemption. He calls us to love our enemies because he first loved us when we were his enemies. To become divine we must love like God. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).

A friend of mine once shared a story with me of how she had trouble getting along with the new pastor in her parish. She worked on the parish staff and had a very good relationship with the former pastor, but the new pastor’s personality was different than what she was used to. They had trouble seeing eye to eye. They just didn’t get along. She kept thinking of ways she could get him to change his attitude or opinion about things and was just getting more and more frustrated.

One day she was sharing her frustrations with a close friend. The friend listened to her patiently and then asked just a single question: “Have you tried loving him?”

My friend was stunned and convicted, because she realized she had not. She had tried changing his mind. She had tried convincing him she was right. She had tried ignoring him. She had tried tolerating him. She had even tried being nice to him. But she had not really tried loving him — meaning she had not accepted him for who he was without any preconditions on their relationship.

That single question changed her attitude toward her new pastor and over the years they not only learned to work together; they became good friends.

Loving our enemies doesn’t just mean loving those who wear the uniform of a hostile government, or loving those who actively persecute us. More often than not, it means loving those who are close to us that we have trouble getting along with. G. K. Chesterton once quipped that the reason God commands us to love our neighbors and our enemies is that they are often the same people.

As Christians, we need to learn, like Christ, to turn the expectations of the world on their head. The world says that people must earn our respect and we must judge who is worthy of our love. God says stop judging and start loving. That is divine wisdom, and the key to blessedness.