Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time (C) | Fr Lawrence Lew OP reflects on our response towards our enemies, and considers how the Christian response can thwart the true Enemy.
Our enemies stir up in us a desire to be gods. For, how many of us, having been wronged, or mistreated, or humiliated, or plotted against by our enemies have not felt that rush of hatred, and a longing for vengeance? We would take to ourselves a god-like power over them, punishing them, bringing them down, having them feel remorse, or even, desiring their demise! Like a Zeus, or a Thor, or a Kali, there is this idolatrous hatred, even within Christian hearts, that wills ill upon one’s enemy in return for ill received. But “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (cf Rom 12:19b, Deut 32:35) So, we are to hand over our enemies to God, the true God, the living God.
How does the one God deal with evil-doers? He brings them to life. For sin is deadly, and evil kills us. God, who is rich in mercy, makes us alive in Christ. This is a splendid work of his grace, that only the true God can accomplish. If we have faith, we should pray for the conversion of our enemies. For how does the true God deal with sinners? He redeems them by his blood. For sin binds us to the Enemy. So, Christ, out of the great love with which he loved us, rescues and sets us free from Satan’s snare. Through his death on the Cross, Jesus frees us from death and sin and the Evil One. Christ has shed his blood on the Cross to redeem all men and women, and so every human person has been anointed with his blood, so that every one of us, through grace, is potentially a friend of God, a future Saint of heaven. If we have hope, we claim this as the promise of the Risen Lord Jesus, who makes the world new again. And how does the living God deal with those who hate him? He sends fire to devour them and blaze upon the earth. This is to say that God’s Holy Spirit comes, like fire, to purify them of sin and hatred, and to inflame their hearts with love. For the Holy Spirit is always at work to warm hearts that are cold with hatred and murderous intent. He comes as sweet anointing from above to calm the heat of man’s anger, and to straighten their crooked wills. So our hearts will burn not with anger and hatred but with love, if we, as Christians, have God’s Holy Spirit upon us too.
So, let our enemies stir up in us a desire to become as gods. But not like the idols and false gods of vengeance and hatred. But let us choose to become like Christ, like the true God, the living God, the one God in whose name we have been baptised. Therefore, let us regard our enemies as our loving God does. Let us look rightly upon our enemies, with Christian hope, and love. Hence, let us know with living faith that the ones we hate have also been anointed with the blood of Christ for Christ has died to redeem all sinners. So, as David says: “The Lord forbid that I should raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed!” (1 Sam 26:11)
Instead, Jesus tells us to raise our hand in blessing, that is to say, to call down God’s power upon them so that Christ can save them from their sins; so that the Holy Spirit can change and convert their hearts, and turn them away from evil; so that they can be rescued from Satan’s seductions, and claimed for God’s own kingdom of justice, peace, and love. How, then, will God repay our enemies? By defeating the Enemy, the Evil One. And so God will turn our enemies into his friends, and he will have them stand alongside us in the struggle for goodness and grace, and he will model them on Christ, the “heavenly man” (1 Cor 15:49). Therefore, St Augustine prays, “may our enemies believe as we too believe in God; may they become friends, and put a stop to hostilities… may they become heaven, and they will be with us.” (Sermon 56, para. 8)
Following St Augustine’s example, we too need to believe that God can and will convert hearts. Has he not converted ours? So, God mercifully now invites us to participate in this conversion; to become ‘co-redeemers’ with Christ by praying for the salvation of our enemies. May our enemies stir up in us the desire to become like God. Hence, when we are hurt and maltreated by other human beings, let our response be divine. For does not the Blessed Trinity dwell within us? Does the blood of Jesus not flow in our veins? And doesn’t the fire of God’s Spirit burns in our hearts? Yes, for we belong to the Lord, and the world has a desperate need to see the difference his grace makes. So, let our response to all, friend and foe alike, be like Christ’s: love, do good, bless, and pray. (cf Lk 6:27-28) It may be that, seeing our good works, others will look upon us Christians and desire also to become like God, the only true and living God of Love.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of an altarpiece of St Charles Borromeo in Lancaster Cathedral.