There is no greater proof that Jesus is the Son of God than his undying love for his enemies. In the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested, Peter’s swift reaction by cutting off the right ear of the high priest’s slave captured the all-too-human impulse toward retaliation. Jesus responded with the strength and power of God: “Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?” (John 18:11)
Strength and power are not ideas the world associates with suffering and torture at the hands of enemies. Mighty and fearful displays, as when the earth swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram seem to demonstrate divine power more convincingly (Numbers 16:31-33).
The Son of God, in assuming flesh, accelerated human spiritual maturity to its zenith. Jesus answered Pilate’s questions with such calm assurance that the latter marveled. When Jesus’ accusers claimed that the Nazarene had to die “because he made himself the Son of God,” Pilate “became afraid” (John 19:7). He was a man immersed in political and earthly affairs. Talk of God or gods belonged to the mystifying realm of religion and the numinous.
Pilate’s first question after that strange accusation was, “Where are you from?” (John 19:9) If Jesus was the Son of God, he would reveal an otherworldly origin. Roman mythology was pervasive enough to make Pilate afraid of spiritual forces beyond human control.
Jesus was silent, so Pilate attempted to assert and define his power over the mysterious defendant.
So Pilate said to him, “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?”
If Jesus was a mere man, he would do everything possible to gain release. He would fear Pilate’s power like all the other criminals who have stood trial before him. Jesus’ answer took Pilate by surprise.
“You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”
Pilate was stripped of power before this bloodied man wearing a crown of thorns and a purple cloak. Divine tranquility and unshakable dominion emanated from his whole being.
Without comprehending Jesus’ words, Pilate instinctively knew he was innocent and tried to release him. But he was caught between Truth and Politics.
The mob saw they were not getting their way so they played their trump card: Caesar.
“If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”
All sense of justice and right drained away at this threat to Pilate’s own position and security. He would not save Jesus at his own expense, despite his wife’s warning (Matthew 27:19).
The whole world sought to preserve its own dominion and power by crucifying “The King of the Jews,” as the Hebrew, Latin, and Greek inscription on the cross mocked. Jesus, who bent low to wash the feet of his disciples the night before, poured forth invincible power and might by his mercy and forgiveness. Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, Jews and Gentiles—the world—came under his merciful wing.
Love is stronger than death, and cannot lay buried in the ground for long. On the third day, Love Incarnate rose from the grave to live and reign forever and ever.
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5: 43-48)
When people talk about love today, usually they’re focused on romantic love, “falling in love”, or loving yourself. Not much talk about loving others or loving your enemies today.
“Love your enemies”, Jesus says in today’s gospel. Have a love that imitates God’s love, our heavenly Father “who makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
Is that love beyond us?
We’ve been told from earliest years that there are some people you can’t trust; they’ll take advantage of you; they’ll harm you. You have enemies in this world. Be careful.
Certainly Jesus doesn’t condemn reasonable caution. He had enemies too and he was careful what he said and how he dealt with them. Evil exists. Rather, Jesus warns against a pessimism that leads us to condemn someone or some groups absolutely. We see no possible goodness or possible change in them, only intractable evil.
We don’t see as God sees when we think like that. The sun of God’s goodness shines on this world; the rain of his mercy softens its hardest places. His love changes people for the good.
We can’t just reason our way to a love of enemies, we must pray to grow in this love. Jesus not only taught us, but showed us by his own example how to love our enemies. Look at him in his Passion, says St. Aelred:
“Listen to his wonderful prayer, so full of warmth, of love, of unshakeable serenity – Father, forgive them. Is any gentleness, any love, lacking in this prayer?
Yet he put into it something more. It was not enough to pray for them: he wanted also to make excuses for them. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. They are great sinners, yes, but they have little judgement; therefore, Father, forgive them.
They are nailing me to the cross, but they do not know who it is that they are nailing to the cross: if they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; therefore, Father, forgive them.
They think it is a lawbreaker, an impostor claiming to be God, a seducer of the people. I have hidden my face from them, and they do not recognise my glory; therefore, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Teach us, Lord, a love like yours, that never gives up or draw limits, or settles for those in its small circle. Help us to love like the sun and the rain that reach everywhere.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
Genesis 2:15 (Revised Standard Version)
Adam, priest and king of the Lord’s garden sanctuary, had the duty “to till it and keep it.”
The Hebrew word for “keep” (shamar) appears throughout God’s treaty with Israel: they are to “keep” the Sabbath, commandments, festivals, and covenant.
Adam had only one law to “keep” in the garden of Eden:1
You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.
The law was a matter of life and good, death and evil. Keeping the law proved Adam’s love, trust, and obedience. Preserving the law, Adam “walked” with God.
Like a father to his children, Moses gave the law to Israel:
See, I have today set before you life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I am giving you today, loving the Lord, your God, and walking in his ways, and keeping (shamar) his commandments, statutes and ordinances, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. If, however, your heart turns away and you do not obey, but are led astray and bow down to other gods and serve them, I tell you today that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land which you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land which the Lord swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.
Law and love are one in the heart of God. Keeping the law is union with God. Christ is the Law and Love Incarnate.
The Cross, the tree of life, transcended the deadly effects of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eclipsing the Mosaic polarity of “life and death” and “good and evil,” Jesus shocked the world by swallowing death and evil.
“Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”
“Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
The poisoned drink that killed Christ’s mortal body transmuted into living wine by drowning in his divinity.
St. Paul, zealous keeper of the Mosaic covenant, had to be blinded and knocked to his spiritual senses before proclaiming in wonder:
For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.
Walking the line between life and death is a fearful thing for mortals, but Jesus walked right into the black hole of death and evil and emerged into the Light immortal and transfigured. Jesus set us free from the enslaving fear of death (Hebrews 2:15).
The divine strategy was as incomprehensible in Jesus’ day as it is in ours:
He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. ”Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?
Christ forfeited everything to God and won heaven and the whole world. On the Cross, losers are winners.
Christ Rose Obedient Smashing Sin
1 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Second Oration on Easter 8: “[God gave Adam] a law as a material for his free will to act on. This law was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of and which one he might not touch.” From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 62.
According to Aphraates, a 4th century Syrian ascetic and bishop in the patristic tradition: “He established a new law for Adam, that he could not eat of the tree of life.” See the Liturgy of the Hours, First Week of Lent, Wednesday, Office of Readings.
We know that no one begotten by God sins; but the one begotten by God he protects, and the evil one cannot touch him.
1 John 5:18
Victory in Christ is real, St. Paul and St. John attest. Ongoing conversion and transformation into Christ buries the “old self” (Romans 6:6) and makes us a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
How was the sinless, only-begotten Son of God “protected” and “untouched” by “the evil one”? By insult? Scourging? Crowning of thorns? Betrayal? Abandonment by friends? Crucifixion? Hardly.
The heart, mind, and spirit of the man Jesus Christ was “protected” by the Spirit in the Father, and “untouched” by evil, in that love prevailed over hatred to the very end. No insult, whip, thorn, or betrayal dislodged Jesus from his stillness in the Trinity of Love to return insult for insult, tit for tat, or evil for evil. Caving in to loveless retaliation is the ultimate defeat of the human spirit.
Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.
Divine mercy is the ultimate triumph of Christ, the Light of the World.
Jesus said to Nicodemus: “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
Why does the Gospel of John compare Jesus to the bronze serpent lifted up by Moses in the desert? Let us revisit the original account in the Book of Numbers:
With their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!”
Patience is not an easy virtue. Is it surprising that forty years of wandering in the desert spawned complaints against the expedition’s leaders? The glorious memory of the Red Sea miracle quickly faded into grumbling. Nostalgia for the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic of Egypt tempted the weary pilgrims as they ate manna day after day (Numbers 11:5).
In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died.
In the childhood of humanity, chastisement in the form of biting serpents awakened the people of Israel. The immediacy of death in the camp shook off the sloth of ingratitude.
Then the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you. Pray the LORD to take the serpents from us.”
The physical chastisement accomplished its end: the children of Israel turned back to the Lord with supplication.
So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses, “Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.” Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
The likeness of an exterior poisonous saraph became the antidote for the interior poison of sin and ingratitude. But how, ontologically, could looking at the serpent cure an interior poison? The cure for ingratitude is gratitude. The cure for disobedience is obedience. Only a change of heart or metanoia can effectively strike at the root of inner poison. (In the narrative, the bronze serpent only restored physical life.)
St. Paul provides a clue to the logic of the serpent cure:
“For what the law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us, who live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit” (Romans 8:3-4).
The Son of Man, like the bronze serpent, was an exterior manifestation of humanity’s interior poison. As the bronze serpent on a pole was without poison, but manifested Israel’s inner poison, so Christ on the Cross was without sin, but manifested Adam’s sin.
From the bronze serpent to the Incarnate Christ, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit progressively penetrated into the depths of the human heart where the root poison lay: interior and exterior division, which is sin.
Looking on Christ with faith is the first step leading to hope and love. Christ does not remain “out there” on the Cross, but comes to dwell within, giving his brethren access to the Father in the Holy Spirit. By the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit, persons are deified and brought to union and communion in the Trinity.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
Jesus said to his disciples: “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.”
The Father sent his Son into the world to transform it by union with himself, energizing the very dust of the cosmos with the breath of the Holy Spirit. The second person of the Trinity became an individual among individuals to lead us beyond the empirical boundaries of individuation to the authentic freedom of personhood.
Christ’s forgiveness of his enemies from the Cross tore down dividing walls and invited reconciliation with himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Love overcame the fear of death, for other persons were his very life. Jesus’ whole being cried out for the restoration of a divided, ego-centered humanity.
The permeable communion of persons in communion infinitely surpasses the society of bounded egos. One’s own good and the good of others is one and the same good. Persons conceived in the Womb of the Father are selfless like himself and good “to the bone.” When we see other persons as one with us in the same Immaculate Womb, “enemies” become children of the Father.
The Holy Spirit alone can divinize our nature so that love becomes first nature and first impulse. Confidence in the Holy Spirit’s transforming power is a first step to cooperating with divine grace.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42).
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
Paradise begins in our heart today where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the saints and all our neighbors dwell, one within the other. In the heart there is no social distancing, boundaries or limits. The infinite love of God fills heaven and earth in the immeasurable space of the heart. In stillness and silence, all is one and all is many.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).
Fear is a poor motivation for everlasting love. Fear looks down while walking on water and sinks. Fear looks to the left and to the right, losing its balance. Fear is a scission between “I” and “Thou.”
Love seeks no reward and fears no punishment. Divine love is supreme, perfect and sublime. To love, nothing can be added. Love is undivided within and without, with God and with neighbor. Indivisibility casts out fear.
Deification is becoming all eye—the divine eye: “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing and one love” (Meister Eckhart, Sermon 57, Walshe trans.).