Wonderfully Complicated

Sunday Gospel Reflection
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mt. 5:38-48 | February 19, 2023

Wonderfully Complicated
JM Nuqui – Campus & Youth Minister

In the morning of 1984, days after he escaped from the state prison, Riley Arzeneaux came into the house of an elderly couple, Louise and Nathan Degrafinried. Still on the run and enveloped by fear, Riley aimed a shotgun at the old couple. As a Christian lady, Louise calmly requested Riley to put down the gun and offered him a seat. Nathan got their unexpected guest a pair of dry socks and Louise cooked breakfast and offered him coffee. To cut the story, the police eventually arrested Riley, and the young man served his years in prison. On that day, guns were all over the place, but no one was harmed.

My dear brothers and sisters, this is already the fourth Sunday we’ve been hearing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. From the Beatitudes to the call to be salt and light of the world, to the better righteousness expected of Christians – for the first time in the Sermon, one meets the word which sums up the whole of its message: love. This now reaches its climax in what we often find most difficult to live out: love your enemies. Jesus’ audience were surely already shocked when he started listing illustrative imperatives: turning the other cheek, walking an extra mile, and giving of cloak. But perhaps they were all the more scandalized upon hearing Jesus’ unprecedented call to love one’s enemies. Some probably thought, “Nasa tamang pag-iisip ba ‘to si Hesus? Mahalin ang kaaway? Mahalin ang mga Romanong nang-aapi sa atin?

Kung tayo ay aasa sa ating mga sarili lamang, to love one’s enemy really does seem impossible, unthinkable, and beyond one’s capacity. But my dear friends, God’s grace always precedes his demands. Laging may grasya. Laging nauuna ang Diyos. Even before we’re asked to forgive, pinatawad na tayo ng Diyos. Even before we’re asked to love, minahal na tayo ng Diyos. That’s why the grace to love one’s enemies comes from a faithful remembering of our experience of Jesus. We are to requite hostility with love and behave in a manner not determined by the way others treat us, but by the treatment one receives from Jesus. Kung paano tayo tinaggap at minahal ni Hesus, ganoon din tayo tatanggap at magmamahal. To love one’s enemies comes as a gift from God, and with it comes the power to love – a love that is unconditional and vulnerable. Mahirap, pero hindi imposible – dahil kahit kailan, hindi tayo naging imposible sa Diyos.

The Gospel continues. Tila hindi pa tapos si Hesus. “To be perfect and merciful just as your heavenly Father is perfect and merciful.” Isa nanaman ba itong imposibleng tawag? My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus is not speaking of what people should do but cannot do. Rather, he is speaking of what God has granted and continues to promise us. This call springs primarily not from a commandment, but from the experience of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Lagi tayong binibigyan ng Diyos ng pagkakataon upang maging mahabagin at mapagmahal. Sure, perfection may be impossible and difficult. But we’ll always have perfect moments wherein we can improve ourselves, perfect opportunities to do good to our neighbors, perfect attempts to be more and more like our Father – always through our acts of love and gratitude, mercy and compassion.

At the end of the day, we just have to surrender – to surrender everything to God, to offer him our daily acts of charity and our own perfect imperfections, and to entrust him of our life of discipleship. After all, surrender is very much related to the act of loving. Hopefully, it will be a joyful surrender because of a love so great – na kahit saan man tayo dalhin ng ating pagsisikap, that no matter and even if we fall short of our efforts, mahal na mahal pa rin tayo ng Diyos. Even before we attempted to love our enemies, or desired to follow him, or even strived to be as perfect as He is, nauna na Niya tayong minahal.

The story of the elderly couple welcoming and protecting the life of an enemy still echoes until today. They could’ve died that day. But their warm welcome – allowing their lives to be wonderfully complicated through actively engaging in heart-felt love with the frightened man– provided them with security more than any gun. More than a mere following of a law, we instead hear a beautiful Gospel: “I was on the run, and you took me in; I was hungry, and you made me breakfast; I was thirsty, and you offered me coffee; I had wet socks on my feet, and you gave me dry ones; I was ready to kill, and you freed me from my weapon.”

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