7th Sunday Year C

See Commentary on Luke Luke 6:27-38

Homily 1 - 2007

I find this section of Luke’s Gospel most challenging, yet most important. I really do believe that until we start living it, we are inevitably stuck in the never-ending cycle of violence that has plagued our world since Cain killed his brother Abel: not just violence between tribes, religious groups, nations, but also the low-level violence of constant provocation and retaliation: gossip, criticism, getting even, passive aggression, that happen at micro level and plague our more regular interactions within families, congregations, work places, etc.

What is Jesus’ answer? He sees our starting point as a clear sense of respect for our own unlosable human dignity and for the same unlosable human dignity of everyone else. We are all loved by God, wanted by God, called by God to community and, through community, to happiness.

In face of violence Jesus says: turn the other cheek. He calls for resistance, but non-violent resistance - that states and lays claim to our own dignity and our own inner freedom. To turn the other cheek is to stand up straight, look the offender straight in the eye, name the injustice for what it is – and to claim our own dignity. It is most certainly not meek submission - “put up with it”, “say nothing”, “cover up” - that simply serves to feed a debilitating dependence. Remember Jesus under interrogation in the courtyard of the High Priest: Why did you strike me? – He confronted his aggressors.

Non-violent resistance doesn’t necessarily stop further aggression – that is why it calls for considerable courage – but it changes the dynamic; it shows clearly where the dignity lies. And it puts stop to the cycle of  vindictiveness and  revenge. And it may even on occasion work – enabling offenders to see what they are doing. (Of course, a violent response, even if victorious, rarely stops further violence either - it simply puts it off for another day.)

Beyond that, away from the heat of confrontation, Jesus says: pray for those who hate you. Why? because there is danger in hatred – it sucks us in... we struggle to love those who hate us. But unless we do love, we get caught in the web of dependence and we lose our inner freedom: Their attitudes determine our attitudes: they call the tune, and we’re not free. So, says Jesus, pray for them: pray to break that spontaneous connection in our own minds between what they do and who they are. Pray to love them as God loves them – as God loves me.

The crucified Christ prayed for his torturers: Father, forgive them. They killed him physically. They couldn’t kill him spiritually. They couldn’t dehumanise him - though they tried. He refused to get sucked into their bitterness. He retained his dignity. He stayed free.

 Homily 2 - 2019

How do we maintain our humanity over time in the face of constant pressure otherwise from the media and, sadly, from so many politicians? What I have in mind is the heartless way we have treated asylum-seekers, specifically boat-people, in recent years. Why have they been singled out while we hear absolutely nothing about those who arrive by air? How is it that boat-arrivals are made out to be security risks, possible terrorists, drug-dealers or bearers of exotic diseases while their counterparts who arrive by other means of transport arouse no such suspicions? It is hard not to suspect political reasons other than simple border protection. Give us voters some easily identifiable scapegoats, demonise them enough, kindle our fears and innate hostility, and we predictably fall into line behind whoever present themselves as the strong and fearless leaders.

What distresses me is that we so easily forget our legendary decency, our sensitivity for the underdog, our beautiful capacity to pull together and come to the aid of those in distress. Surely this is one of the great “Aussie values” that often the same politicians dutifully exhort us to protect and to cultivate? It also happens to be one instance of the key touchstone of all genuine Christian morality. It was Jesus, after all, who said, “Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate”.

I rejoice that here in the local district there are many people dedicating their time, energy and financial support to make refugees welcome; and so many others ready to support them. I have been around long enough to remember how Malcolm Fraser opened Australia’s borders to refugees fleeing for their lives from Vietnam. Here in our diocese we recently welcomed five recently ordained priests, all of them from overseas, some of whom are refugees, one who escaped from Vietnam to Indonesia by boat. They have come to our diocese for practical pastoral experience. Their time here, we hope, will not only be beneficial for them but for the rest of us as well. They join with the wonderful influx of migrants and refugees who enrich our Australian landscape with their skills, their enthusiasm and their uniqueness.

Certainly we need to take reasonable care that those who seek to settle here are not security threats, at least no more than those of us already here. I don’t doubt that our Border Force is up to the task, just as our police force manages to keep the rest of us in reasonable safety.

I wonder at times how it is in our modern age that, with the myriad labour-saving and time-saving devices at our disposal, most of us find we have less and less time to do all we want to do, with the consequence that many become more and more stressed and even fearful, particularly of strangers. Likewise, I also wonder why it is that, as communication has become easier with Facebook, etc., we tend to interact with ever more hostility. What is going on? Something seems obviously happening to society, and it is worrying.

Whatever about those who do not share our faith, are we disciples of Jesus losing focus? Have we lost our joy and our enthusiasm? Do we need consciously and deliberately to centre ourselves on Christ and take his message of love seriously? Do we need to rekindle a nourishing personal relationship with him, and allow his peace and his joy to saturate us once more? Welcoming the stranger is a far greater source of delight and fulfillment than excluding ever could be.

Homily 3 - 2022

I believe that today’s brief Gospel passage takes us right down, down, down to the very heart of the Gospel message — but at the same time, it is, perhaps, the hardest really to take on board. God knows that it is hard to come to terms with. That is why God eventually sent his Son to come among as one of us — in the hope of convincing us, of encouraging us.

The passage starts off: “Love your enemies …” and concludes: “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate”. And in between are a whole lot of practical points teasing out the consequences, some relevant, some irrelevant — not surprisingly. Jesus was, after all, talking to Galilean peasants of a now ancient culture. So we need to get beyond some of those practicalities, and learn to apply Jesus’ message to today’s reality.

Jesus didn’t say much about the ‘why’ — why love our enemies? other than to remind us that our God is a “compassionate” God, and that loving our enemies will, over time, transform our experience of life into God’s experience of divine life: “you will be sons and daughters of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked”.

The fascinating thing is that we half know already that Jesus is right. After all, is life now in our world the way you would like it to be? And if not, what would you prefer it to be like? And, I might add, don’t sell yourself short with half-solutions. Perhaps too many of us have already persuaded ourselves that a world where everyone loves everyone is an impossible dream. I wonder what Jesus was thinking, and feeling, as he talked to his Galilean audience?

Jesus was mature enough, plugged in enough, to realise that an attitude like love is not a matter of “either/or” — “either you love, or you don’t”. We know from our personal experience that our loving has grown and deepened across life, and we also know that it can still grow and deepen. We also know that our world will not change all that much if we don’t broaden our range and improve our motivation. If we do, we still mightn’t achieve much; we might not witness any obvious improvement in our world.

Had Jesus witnessed the change that he had hoped for when he launched his mission a few short years before? All he saw from his cross was failure — failure with the leadership, failure with the general population, failure even with his carefully chosen disciples. Yet the Epistle to the Hebrews insisted that Jesus “became perfect through suffering” — he loved to the end, convinced that eventually people might change and come on board. And here are we, two thousand years later!

How do we grow even to the extent of “loving our enemies” — no exceptions? Today’s short Gospel passage contained some of Jesus’ suggestions, that are still relevant: “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly… Treat others as you would like them to treat you… Do not judge; do not condemn; grant pardon”.

How did Jesus manage it? Today’s passage does not tell us. But the Gospel shows us everywhere that Jesus saw people through the eyes of God. He saw, not just their presenting needs [realised and unrealised], but he saw everyone’s radical dignity as unique expressions of God’s image, beloved daughters and sons, fashioned by God who loved them.

Each of us could do worse than deliberately working at recognising, accepting and rejoicing in our own human dignity — quite undeserved but wonderful gift! Let us pray then, not just for our enemies, but also for ourselves!