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February 20, 1998     The Message
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14 The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana Luke's sermon on the plain: Encouraging crime and financial d By FATHER DONALD DILGER Columnist Gospel Commentary for February 22, 1998: Sev- enth Sunday: Ordinary Time: Cycle C: Luke 6:27-38 Luke begins today's gospel with a series of exhortations that seem contrary to our nature as it is now constituted. "Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those Who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you." There is hardly anyone who would be inclined to respond to provocation in tlaese ways. More likely than not, we will at least dis- like, if not hate, those we consider enemies. Nor are we inclined to respond with kindness to those who hate us. If we pray for those who mistreat us, the impulse is at least to pray that God may repay them in kind or even remove them from the scene, perhaps pray for their happy death. When we are cursed or insulted, our first impulse is surely to respond in kind or worse. The modern practice is to file suit for defamation of character or for verbal assault. Luke continues, "If someone takes away your coat, give him your shirt also. Give to everyone who begs from you. And if anyone takes away what belongs to you, do not ask him to give it back." We have the same situation as in the first series of exhortations. Doesn't it seem ridiculous to give also your shirt to someone who has taken your coat? Where would the taking stop? Who of us would tol- erate the taking of our property of any form without our consent, yet the Lucan Jesus says we should not even ask the taker to give it back? Following such a blueprint seems to encourage theft and robbery. If such advice is practiced anywhere in Christianity, it is rare indeed. Matthew's version, "Do not refuse him who would borrow from you," seems to make more sense. Luke adds his version of the Golden Rule, "As you want people to do to you, so do to themY Now that makes much more sense to us. No one has offended us. We are merely asked to treat others as we want to be treated. That precludes hatred, curs- ing, mistreating, stealing, but it does not stop others from doing it to us. Most offenders are not Robin Hoods, but just hoods. They practice equal opportu- nity in stealing from or assaulting without checking whether or not their victims are good or bad. So we still have to cope with some very difficult advice in Luke's Sermon on the Plain. " Now comes Luke's explanation of why the above paradoxes are a preferred course of action for Chris- tians. If you love only those who return your love, what good is that? If you do good only to those who do the same to you, what credit do you get? There are sinners who do the same; in other words, anybody can do that. And if you allow only those to borrow from you from whom you know you'll get it back, what credit do you get? Anybody can do that, too, according to Luke. In response we would have to say that no economy could function by loaning money without hope of getting it back. But Luke makes this part of loving one's enemies. He says very clearly, "Love your enemies, and do good. Lend, but expect no return!" He promises a great reward to those who act this way, obviously not an earthly reward. Such people he calls "Sons of the Most High, who is kind even to the ungrateful and selfish." What are we to do with this kind of advice? Luke and Matthew give substantially the same advice, Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount, Luke in the Sermon on the Plain. We almost have to conclude that substantially such a plan of life goes back to Jesus himself instead of being an adaptation of Jesus' ',F advice to later situations in the life ofi This is radical Christianity says. It must be the way of pe haven't achieved it and don't achieve it. We may have met tern of the Sermon on the Plain. who live like this, but tern among elderly women deep spirituality by a life of in religious life or mothers o servants to their husbands and their lives. This does not mean not achieve this perfection that will with the selflessness of God. It's.j'ustl longer and may have to world. When compared with Christian in the Sermon on the Plain; t cleansing or Purgatory after this all Thus Paul writes in I C one's building burns down, loss, yet he will escape with his passing through the fire." The rest of today's gospel is a bit "Do not judge and you will not be though our first impulse is to be others. "Do not condemn and you demned," means about the same. will be forgiven," is something we so! every time we say "Forgive us our forgive those who trespass against us: prayer, since we are usually Finally we are told to give and we good measure, shaken together, poured into our lap. 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