“You have heard it said (…); but I say to you (…)” What is this? What are we hearing? It is as if Christ is questioning all the laws, the entire status quo according to which his generation—and sometimes ours—had been living. He’s putting it into doubt, challenging us to think twice about what we’ve become accustomed to. “Up to now you’ve lived in this (certain) way: ‘An eye for an eye…’. But I now propose to you a still greater path…”
Why is it that the hearts of his listeners even consider this? Why do they continue following him after such seemingly-unnatural proposals? Why do we? Why do our own hearts whisper that they recognize this new Way of Christ? Why does it find such an echo deep within, a cry of amazement: “It would be so beautiful to live this!”?
Quite simply, because it is not altogether a “new” path Jesus offers; rather, he is calling our attention to a forgotten familiarity, still deeply entrenched within our own hearts. There’s an echo of a lifestyle our nature once possessed—and which therefore still resonates. It is the way of life we were originally made for, but which—through the catastrophe of original sin & compounded by centuries of personal sin—had been all but forgotten by the time of Jesus, and still more so today.
In his Theology of the Body, Pope John Paul II wrote, “Even after sin, we still experience a certain ‘echo’ of the… original innocence of man: a photographic ‘negative’, as it were, the positive of which was precisely original innocence.” In the current “negative,” we see only “as in a mirror”, as St Paul puts it. Original Man has become obscured; and through sin we have entered the stage of what JPII calls “Historical Man”. From our current perspective, whatever bliss & virtue Original Man (Adam & Eve) had enjoyed so effortlessly during their daily life before the Fall, we ourselves might now perceive as idealistic—a seemingly “impossible dream”. Our Lord’s challenge no doubt intimidates his listeners—then as now. It seems unreachable, so unnatural. “How can this be,” we might challenge His soft voice in our conscience after experiencing our constant failings & vice. “What you propose goes against my every natural tendency!” Yet His challenge echoes on—because the traces of Original Man & his original beauty and goodness still appeal to Historical Man. We know we can do better than our falls.
Our Lord has come to repair the trauma—the rift—caused by sin. That is what redemption is all about. I am reminded of what Christ would shortly say regarding marriage: “In the Beginning it was not so.” St Paul would later summarize how Jesus has come to “recapitulate all things in himself.” The catechism puts it this way:
Christ’s whole life is a mystery of recapitulation. All Jesus did, said and suffered had for its aim to restore fallen man to his original vocation: When Christ became incarnate and was made man, he recapitulated, in himself, the long history of mankind and procured for us a “short cut” to salvation, so that what we had lost in Adam, that is, being in the image and likeness of God, we might recover in Christ Jesus.
Redemption is a summing-up, a gathering together of all the parts of history, into Christ who assumes them and, taking them upon himself & into his death & resurrection, brings about their restoration. Our fallen nature has been re-capitulated: literally, “re-headed”, put-back-on-its-feet again, re-ordered with the Head on top & feet at the bottom, restored to its upright position. Christ helps Historical Man to view Original Man—“the beginning”—as his own true fullness; and the gift of salvation gives birth to the hope of someday, somehow returning to the beginning (what JPII calls “Eschatological Man”). Christ fully reveals man to himself.
Think of the movie The Lord of the Rings. In a climactic moment in the 3rd Book, The Return of the King, the King’s magnificent sword is to be re-forged. It had been broken, shattered, smattered to pieces—not unlike human nature and our natural instincts through original sin. Yet now, thru the power of the elves, the great sword is re-forged to its original state (and perhaps even enhanced a little, we might speculate—since it is the elves doing the forging.) In a real sense, our Lord re-forges each of us, in Himself. He has brought about Mankind 2.0. “You have heard it said… But now I say to you…”
Pope John Paul II challenged us: “Man must reconcile himself to his natural greatness.” This is the task of the Christian journey—the maturing of the seed sown in us through Baptism and strengthened through our cooperation with the Holy Spirit—that “divine architect” of the soul. “Healing the wounds of sin, the Holy Spirit renews us interiorly through a spiritual transformation.” Though Original Man is long since dead—barely a faint echo—Historical Man, through Christ, yet experiences an equally faint but growing manifestation of his true, restored—and perhaps enhanced—self, in the fully redeemed Eschatological Man.
So how do I live that out? Me, myself, today? Our Lord tells us of concrete ways we should begin living out this “2.0 version”. The Gospel truth must touch us. Far from simply putting more information into our minds, Christ’s words of truth carry with them the grace that enhances our attitudes—towards ourselves, towards others, and towards all creation. “You have heard it said: love your neighbor, & hate your enemy. Yet I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus does not merely “say” this to us; rather, his grace and His Spirit enable us to begin living it out! We can start, now, living and acting as we were always called to be! In this case, grace restores our awareness of the high dignity of every person, even our enemies, and enables us to live accordingly. “It rains on the good & the bad alike,” Jesus reminds us—because both the good and the bad are highly valued by God, worth the priceless Blood of His Son. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” (Yes, even that “particular” neighbor who treats you in a less-than-neighborly way.) “You are a Temple of God”, St Paul reminded us in the 2nd Reading! It is all so true.”)
“Love your enemies” means, in other words, “Remember just who your enemy truly is!” Remember who he is before God! Recall how deeply he is loved by God! The Christian does not take revenge; and he will, indeed, seek to turn-the-other-cheek for his enemy to strike a second time if he wants. The Christian—aided by the Holy Spirit—perceives deeply just who the other person truly is—in God’s eyes. I strive to look beyond the currently distorted image I see before me—the image of my neighbor wounded by sin. I look beyond it, in faith, to behold my neighbor being redeemed by Christ.
Christ lived this himself, just as he himself taught us: “Offer no resistance.” Consider the way he treated even those who were beating him, and pounding the spikes into his hands during his execution! Truly, He offered them no resistance! He strove to forgive them—and he was able to do so because he was able to perceive, beyond their faces disfigured by hatred & cruelty, the reflection of Himself in their eyes—that image of God which He had already begun to re-forge.
Just before concluding maybe we can take it a step further: perhaps this is so difficult for me today, because I don’t remember who I am—MYSELF—before God, first. I have forgotten my own identity. I have not experienced, first, that beloved image being stamped & sealed again onto my own. Perhaps I still my feel tempted to respond to Jesus: “But, I’m only human! I can’t do any better. This is ‘above my pay-grade’!” While that is true—in part—for historical man, we know that—with God & through grace—all things are possible. All things! Historical Man’s faint nostalgia for Original Man finds hope and strength when, through grace, he begins to experience the seed of Eschatological Man now slowly maturing in his heart and will. Christ is justified in his concluding challenge: “Be perfect, even as your Father.” Be FULLY Human! Be true to your truest self! You have been redeemed & re-forged, in Christ—restored to your full stature, in God’s image. And the grace that has accomplished this in you will continue to enable you to grow and mature in fulfilling all of its demands.
Pope John Paul II states it quite simply in this way: “In reality, the name for this deep amazement at man’s worth and dignity is the ‘Gospel’, that is to say, the “good news. It is also called Christianity.”
To Download a PDF Version of this Homily, Click Here: 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Fr. Stephen Dardis was ordained a priest in 2012 for the Legionaries of Christ, with a Bachelors in Theology and a Licentiate in Philosophy. He currently serves as Associate Pastor for Our Lady of Lourdes Church in New Orleans, Louisiana.
-  John Paul II, The Theology of the Body, 55:4
-  1 Cor. 13:12.
-  Eph. 1:10.
-  CCC # 518.
-  Gaudium et Spes, 22.
-  Pope John Paul II, Love & Responsibility (pg. ref. ?)
-  CCC 1695.
-  C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (Pg. ref.?).
-  Interestingly enough, in India there is an insightful term of greeting from centuries ago: “Namaste”, which translates, “I respect the Divine in you.” (Cf. The India Tribune, http://www.indiatribune.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=570:namaste-is-an-expression-of-obeisance-homage-or-veneration&Itemid=478 )
-  Redemptor Hominis, 10.