Sunday, Feb. 19, is the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48.
What Jesus tells us today has been repeated for years as a way to show the extremes Christianity goes to: “Turn the other cheek,” “Go the extra mile,” and “Love your enemies.”
But what often gets lost is that these “extremes” are really the most practical ways to interact with others. Here are four ways doing so can transform your life.
1. Exaggerated kindness is the only true kindness.
The first reading today gives us the Golden Rule that Jesus also embraces: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
To go the extra mile and give two cloaks, not one, is loving others as you love yourself. You don’t give yourself only part of what you need — you give yourself everything you need, and more.
As St. Gregory the Great put it, “He who does not divide with his needy neighbor what is necessary to him proves that he loves him less than himself.”
Only by giving more than enough can we truly fulfill the Golden Rule.
2. Enemies give us a chance to be like God.
When Jesus says, “Be perfect like your heavenly Father is perfect,” he means that the Father is kind to all. “He makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
Thus the best chance we have to be like God is being kind to those who are opposed to us.
3. Our enemies often give us a chance to hear unfiltered opinions about ourselves.
Loving our enemies is helpful in a very practical way: It can help us know ourselves. As St. Augustine said, “Just as the flattery of a friend can pervert, so the insult of an enemy can sometimes correct.”
Friends tend to be nice — case in point: Think of negative but potentially helpful things you have avoided telling a friend.
Those we don’t always like, or who don’t like us, on the other hand, tend to tell us precisely what they think.
Don’t take their criticisms too much to heart, and be sure to balance them with the sunny voices in your life — but never forget that those who may not be our biggest fans also often get right what we need to work on in our lives.
4. Loving our enemies is a chance to defeat evil.
Jesus’ command to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” is often cited as one of his hardest commandments.
It’s true: It is hard to love those who hate you. But doing so is also a way evil can be defeated. If we return evil for evil, evil doesn’t end; it grows. When we answer enemies with retaliation, that means we join their mindset — they don’t join ours.
But what if we “retaliate” with kindness? As St. John Chrysostom put it: “Fire is not put out by fire, but by water.”
Only by embracing the other — and maybe practicing some of that “exaggerated charity” on them — will we ever stop the cycle — and ultimately show that love wins.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at
Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
He is the author of What Pope Francis Really Said.