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Bearing the Image of God


Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: 1 Sm 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-1
Second Reading: 1 Cor 15:45-49
Gospel: Lk Lk 6:27-38

Today’s Gospel is a continuation of Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain.”  After listing the "beatitudes" - characteristics that identify His followers - Jesus gives His listeners a road map outlining how they are to live out their lives as His followers. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you … Give to all who ask … Do to others as you would have them do to you ... Stop judging ... Stop condemning ... Forgive."  This is the path each one of us must follow.  This is the journey of faith on which we find ourselves day after day.

But let’s face it. This is one of the most difficult teachings that we have received from Jesus on the practical living out of our faith. When we examine our own relationships, both with God and with our neighbor, we certainly realize how difficult it is for us to imitate the love of Jesus and put this into practice.  Our love is imperfect; it can be colored by fear, by some hidden motive, by selfishness. Often, our love is conditional... we only love those whom we like, or those who earn our love by pleasing us. Our love is fragile and sensitive. It withers and dies if we are hurt or misunderstood. Or we simply get tired of giving; we grow weary of preferring others to ourselves.

Is it really possible to forgive our enemies in a world torn by war and terror, religious and ethnic prejudice, economic disparity and exploitation of the weak? We are certainly not expected to overlook these evils, but as St. Paul tells us “we bear the image of God,” and we are called to forgive and not retaliate. We are called to be merciful, not vengeful. This is real heroism, and we are all called to it.

Again, we bump into the basic paradox that is at the heart of the Christian Gospel - death leading to life, darkness giving way to light, suffering as the road to glory. Unless and until we accept this fundamental condition, we will never understand the love we are called to share; we will never be fully at peace. We will continue to worry and fret, to question God's will and His love, to resent the predominance of evil, to slip easily into moods of doubt and despair.

Jesus teaches otherwise.  He urges us to be concerned for the needs of others.   He demands that we use God's gifts wisely and well.   At the heart of our faith is a spirit leading us to acknowledge that it is God's love and goodness that provides so abundantly for all of our needs.  And at the center of our love for God is a desire to share what we have with our brothers and sisters. 

If we take seriously the "new commandment" that Jesus leaves us, we have to keep examining the quality of our love, to see if it really reflects the kind of unselfish love that He spoke about and lived by. When Jesus says “Do to others as you would have them do to you", it sounds deceptively simple and easy. But when we measure our love of God and neighbor against that "simple" rule, we find that we fall far short of that ideal most at the time.

The love of Jesus is modeled on the love of God. It is a human translation of that love - universal, unwavering, relentless. It will always be a challenge for us, an ideal for which we strive. Jesus Himself nourishes and purifies that love, if we let Him, day by day. And, our love will be finally and fully like His when we share the glory of His resurrection and see our God face to face.

When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we are loving those who themselves are unique reflections of the presence of God. We cannot love God and be indifferent to others.  We have to learn how to love those who are not perfect. We have to learn how to love those who are outcasts. We have to learn how to love those we might feel very naturally repelled by.  What Jesus says in the Gospel is that there is no way we can claim to love God without being accountable to love and serve others.

At the heart of the Gospel message, we have a reminder of how we are to accomplish this and how we are to love. The complete picture found in Scripture keeps going back to the fact that we can’t do this on our own. We have to be in a disposition where we are radically open to a Spirit of love that lives and breathes inside each of us. 

Our task is to take on the image of God, day by day, every day - so that we will always see something we have never seen before. It’s all about listening to a story with open ears and a fresh heart.  It is about crossing over into uncharted lands. It is about constant, interior conversion.  It is about a Kingdom based on Love: Love of God and Love of Neighbor.

 



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