1Sam 26; Ps 103; 1Cor 15:45-49; Lk 6:27-38
Jesus spoke often about the most important virtue: charity (or love). The old standard was basic and legalistic: to love those who love you, to greet your friends and neighbors only. But in his ministry, preaching, and especially in His example, Jesus raises the bar for us: “A new commandment I give you, love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). His love looks like that (crucifix). The foundation of charity comes from today’s gospel, and is sometimes called the “golden rule”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” That’s the bare minimum, but Jesus calls us to something even greater. Love your enemies, and pray for those who mistreat you. From the cross, Jesus prayed even for His persecutors (Lk 23:34). In today’s gospel, He teaches multiple short phrases which are easy to say, but much more difficult to live. But Jesus shows us how to practice them—once again, we go to the cross. Taken together, these teachings help us to live out the high standard of charity, which would be impossible without His help, but with Him, isn’t only possible; it’s expected of us. We can do great things because of the God’s grace, which raises us beyond our natural abilities. So in our friendship with God, are we doing just barely enough to get by, or are we striving for great holiness? To answer that question, we might consider our attitude and respect in interacting with other people.
When it comes to sin and vice, we usually have no problem giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt. But are we as lenient with others as we are with ourselves? Or let’s look at another perspective: wouldn’t we want others to forgive us when we sin? Jesus is saying that if we expect to receive patience and mercy from others—including God Himself—then we have to show patience and mercy to others. It’s in our best interests! And God provides us many opportunities to practice these virtues, right from the comfort of our own home. If your family is anything like mine was, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Unfortunately, we’ve watered down the true meaning of the most important word in our language: love. I can love God, my mom, the dog, my sports team, and even food! We use the same word, “love,” to signify totally different realities. At its root, love isn’t a feeling, but a decision—it’s a choice we make—an act of the will. God is love (1Jn 4:8), which means that love is sacrificial, centered on the good of the other person, and that certainly has to include their eternal good. That’s why the man and woman who live together before marriage can’t possibly love one another because they’re not only putting themselves willfully into a sinful situation, but they’re saying it’s not a big deal to live with a person-of-the-opposite-sex outside of marriage. That’s not an ideal way to prepare for a future married life. Jesus elevates the standard of love by laying down his life on the cross. And then he calls us to do the same. Even St. Paul likens marital love to the cross—that spouses are meant to imitate Christ’s sacrificial love (Eph 5). Far from being mechanistic, true love goes beyond feeling and even death itself, all the way to the very essence of God’s life, for God is love.
We have to understand Christ’s teachings in the proper context. An immediate example comes from today’s gospel: “Stop judging and you will not be judged.” Sometimes, Christians get labeled as being judgmental, or we may not speak out against injustice or sin because we fear that same label. But even here, we have to make a necessary distinction between judging a person and judging an action. If a child tries to put his hand on a hot stove or run out into traffic, we don’t ridicule or disparage him, but hopefully we’d point out the irrationality of the action. And yes, even if that person said, “I can do what I want with my body.” No. We most certainly can (and should) judge actions, especially if they go against reason, faith, or the natural law. But since we don’t know all the circumstances or internal factors, we can’t judge a person’s mind or soul. Perhaps by questioning the motive or beliefs, we can determine their reason for making that decision. So distinguishing between judging actions and person can help us lead others to the truth. But if we truly love someone, then we have to be concerned with their flourishing, and that extends to their eternal wellbeing.
St. John of the Cross once said, “At the end of our lives, we’ll be judged on our love” (CCC1022). He’s referring to love of God, of course, but also to love of neighbor. So let’s recommit to living out the virtue of charity with great generosity, so that when we’re called to account for all the blessings God gave us, we might hear those uplifting words: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come share your master’s joy” (Mt 25:21).