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.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Bill Robins
    Posted at 06:37h, 23 February Reply

    Great material! Good follow-up: Joan Morera Perich, S.J., “Disobeying by Excess,” “CHRISTIANISME I JUSTICIA (CJ), Barcelona,, no.169, Oct. 2018, pp.18-26.
    Lenten prayers, Bill Robins, Nepal

  • Sharon Walters
    Posted at 09:10h, 23 February Reply

    Thank you!

  • Shirley McLean, CLC member
    Posted at 11:40h, 23 February Reply

    Wonderful words to live by! Love your articles. Blessings!

  • Lorraine Majcen
    Posted at 12:31h, 23 February Reply

    Thank you Fr Philip. I appreciate your food for thought, on how we can live the gospel message, in our daily life. God knows we are all a work in progress and so he sends us gentle messages, on how we can live out the gospel, as he wishes us to. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Maria Skarzynski
    Posted at 18:51h, 23 February Reply

    I love your articles and wait for them every week. They are the ones I read two or three times. Thank you.

  • Caroline Maloney
    Posted at 01:57h, 25 February Reply

    Fr. Philip,
    You sure nailed the feeling after (a literal) reading of today’s gospel, of being “the doormat”! Thank you for distinguishing between “niceness” and genuine caring that Jesus asks of us!
    I recall a Liberation theologian (can’t remember his name…sorry) writing that he was just trying to become a Christian. I feel that way sometimes, but much clearer now, having read your reflection! Thank you!

  • Margaret (Peggy) Wilson
    Posted at 14:54h, 25 February Reply

    Thank you. If we meet needs where we can (many rich greedy people need our compassion – we don’t know what drives that greed – usually a hole in the soul they are trying to fill) any more than we can understand the pain that an addict is trying to self medicate. But we can meet needs. Yes I can stop and talk with you. Yes I can budget and put food in the food bank. I let the spirit guide me as to where I put my resources -time, energy and money. Blessl

Post A Comment

Subscribe to igNation

Subscribe to receive our latest articles delivered right to your inbox!