Niceness or Love? – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
I occasionally deal with people who have a literal understanding of scripture. Then there are others who have a selective reading of whether or not to be literal. So, they would be loath to gouge out their eye or chop off an arm if these body parts lead them to sin, but they have no problem taking literally today’s Gospel injunction to be exceedingly self-giving.
Did someone say that we should be doormats? Niceness becomes a virtue! I don’t think that Jesus ever suggested that we be nice. I think that more helpful is a discerned approach to whatever scripture passage we are reading. That usually leads to a more discerned way of relating to others.
Turn the other cheek? Give your cloak as well? Go the second mile? Do not refuse anyone who begs from you? Jesus invites us to a more perfect way of relating to people. Today’s Gospel from Matthew is challenging. A discerned reading of it suggests a hierarchy of who I should offer my kindness and possessions to. That hierarchy is not rooted in who I like or a personal sense of who deserves my help.
For instance, how many of us refuse to give alms to someone sitting on the sidewalk who could conceivably use the money to buy alcohol or drugs? Is it my business how my gift is used? Perhaps a more Christ-like practice is to give the alms and try not to judge how my gift is going to be used. I’ve merely helped a stranger!
Should I give more fully of myself for a very unkind and uncaring boss or supervisor? Probably not! But perhaps that there are other ways in which I can go the extra mile with her or him. An example might be to refrain from joining in the workplace gossip about the person’s meanness.
Should I go out of my way to help an extremely wealthy individual? I don’t think so, but there may be alternatives to not refusing their demands for more and more. Why don’t I join a network of concerned citizens that is working at tax reform and narrowing the growing gap between rich and poor? That greedy person seems so addicted to wealth that they need help to get rid of the greed and attachment. How can I best help?
Jesus himself suggests praying for our enemies and those who persecute us. I have no problem praying that greedy and mean people have conversions. I would love to lend my coat to a person who is down-on-her luck after having years of a decadent lifestyle.
But I have to remind myself that my enjoyment is not of the so there, serves you right! kind, but is rooted in the fact that this formerly-wealthy individual is now down on their luck and needs my compassion. Jesus does remind us that God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. In the end, we are all alike.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. A discerned approach to life – even a simple reading of the Gospel – can be so challenging. Many of us would prefer that someone just tell us how to live. I don’t know about you, but I prefer discerned love to enforced niceness.