Christianity Is Radical!

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Comedian George Burns (1896-1996) was invited to a big dinner to celebrate his 95th birthday.

One of the speakers got up and said, “What is so unusual about our guest of honor this evening is that in a profession that is so frenetically competitive, where so often friends turn on one another, George Burns does not have a single enemy.” He paused and then added, “They are all dead!”  

“Love your enemies,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel (Luke 6:27-38). “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Can we really love our enemies? If not, why did Jesus lay on us this impossible demand? If Jesus’ words trouble you, fear not. Christians have always had a rough time figuring out, or crawling out from under, the Lord’s categorical demand that we love our enemies. 

A young girl heard these words at church, and the next day she sent the priest this note: “Dear Father, I heard you say to love our enemies. I’m only 6 and do not have any enemies yet. I hope to have some when I am 7. Love, Rachel.”

Maybe that is the way you feel, “I don’t have any enemies. I love everybody and everybody loves me.” Maybe we need to really consider who our enemy might be. How about a brother-in-law or a sister-in-law, a parent or a child? Maybe it is someone you’re in competition with. People compete in business, in the family, in the neighborhood and in the parish.

Who is your enemy? There may be persons whom we secretly harbor ill feelings toward that we never thought to classify under Jesus’ definition of enemies. But in a sense they are enemies. They are persons for whom we have ill feelings. Sometimes enemies arise because we try to do the right thing. 

We may secretly harbor resentment toward a person. That is probably the most common spiritual problem among Christians. We wouldn’t openly harm anyone, but boy, can we bear a grudge!

We can kick and squirm and reinterpret Jesus’ words all we want, but when all is said and done, we must conclude that Jesus meant what he said. We are to love those who despise us and bless those who curse us. It is at this point that the Christian ethic is most vividly etched out in our violent, pagan, brutal world filled with hate and bitterness. Jesus was speaking to us and to our world. 

“That’s so radical,” someone protests. Certainly it is! That’s what makes it Christian! We are not certain we want a religion to be that radical. We would rather it be more socially acceptable, comfortable and in line with the way we ordinarily do things. We want a nice, safe, domesticated religion, and loving our enemies is not it. 

Nor is it the way of the world. When your enemy is down you stomp on him. If you are hit on one cheek, you make sure you hit back twice as hard. If he has one gun, you get two. If they have a big bomb, you get a bigger one, in fact, a dozen bigger ones. That’s how the world operates.  

A man was working on a crossword puzzle and he asked his friends, “What’s a four-letter word for a strong emotional reaction to difficulty?” One friend responded, “Fear.” The other friend answered, “Love.” Those are the two words that generally define how we respond to real life situations. We respond either with FEAR or LOVE. Jesus’ response is always based on LOVE.

George Wallace (1919-1998) served as governor of Alabama from 1962 to 1987. In that time, he was known for his support of racist “Jim Crow” laws and his opposition to integration and equality for Black citizens. 

In 1972 Wallace was shot five times and was paralyzed in a failed assassination attempt by Arthur Bremer. Bremer later said he was motivated by fame and not by political ideology. 

George Wallace was taken by surprise when he received a visit in the hospital from Shirley Chisholm, the first Black Congresswoman. Wallace was a staunch opponent of Chisholm. He asked her what “her people” would say about her visiting him in the hospital.

Chisholm replied, “I know what they’re going to say. But I wouldn’t want what happened to you to happen to anyone else anymore.” Her words brought George Wallace to tears. A couple of years later, Shirley Chisholm was fighting for a minimum wage for domestic workers. George Wallace approached his colleagues and advocated for her legislation. It passed!

We all like stories with happy endings. But look through the history of humanity and you see a story of hatred, violence, suffering and injustice. It didn’t begin that way. And it doesn’t have to end that way. 

Because of Jesus, God the Father invites you and me into a whole new world – the Kingdom of God that we pray for when we say the Our Father. How do we create that Kingdom here on earth? By following Jesus’ example and living with a courageous love, a generous love, and an unconditional love. In this way, you and I can change the ending of the story – with the Grace of God!

Who have YOU visited that brought tears to their eyes (and YOURS) and helped change the end of the story?


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