7th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A
9-12 year olds
Jesus continues his talk to the disciples who have gathered to listen. He gives them a glimpse into the heart of God--how to love as God loves. He gives them "maxims"--ways to live so as to build the kingdom of God. He gives a whole bunch of maxims, and then, in the last line of the Gospel, he says,
Umm...perfect? Is this even possible?
First of all, let's think about what Jesus means by "perfect."
Does he mean we all have to get perfect on every test at school or else we are not building the kingdom?
Of course not.
Does he mean we can never make mistakes?
I doubt it.
Does he mean love the way God loves?
How does God love?
he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
God gives the sun and rain to all. We don't have to earn the gift of sunshine. We don't have to be good for rain to water our land. God just loves, no matter what.
God loves so perfectly, that God is love itself.
So when Jesus says to be perfect as God is perfect--to love as God loves--how do we begin?
When we are hurt or angry, it is easy to feel that our enemies don't deserve to be loved. People who are unkind to us don't deserve good things. People who have hurt our feelings don't deserve our kindness.
And this is true. They don't deserve it.
But Jesus reminds us that the love of God is not earned. We don't get the sunshine and the rain because we deserve it, but because God loves us, no matter what.
So, to love as God loves, we have to love our enemies. This does not mean that we have to hug and kiss them, of course. It doesn't even mean that we have to like them. (Jesus says nothing about liking them.) So what does loving an enemy look like?
It might mean simply holding the door open for them. It could mean offering a complement when they have done something well. It definitely means not causing or even wishing bad things to happen to them.
If we acted this way, how would our enemies feel? Might it cause a change in them? Even if it does not, we have acted as God acts, loved as God loves, and we place ourselves in right-relationship with God.
But seriously, is it really possible to love perfectly? What can we do when our enemies persist in tormenting us, or we cannot get rid of the desire to hurt them back?
pray for those who persecute you
What does prayer do for our enemies? What does it do for us? What difference does it make if we pray for them?
These are questions people have asked for hundreds of years. Prayer changes us, little by little. The more we pray, the more our desires come closer to what God wants. God prunes us, the branches of the True Vine, making us grow ever more true, ever closer to the way God means us to be. And so we build the kingdom of God. And so God's will is done.
Some people worry that Jesus' maxim, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect," is too much of a burden on us. They say we should not share it with children because no one is perfect. But I think that concern overlooks an important point. We are not branches on separate plants. We are all branches of Jesus, the True Vine. And throughout the whole vine flows the Holy Spirit. So when one branch is having a hard time loving enemies, another branch is praying for those who persecute. When one branch loves abundantly, it helps another branch who is finding it difficult to love. And the whole vine flourishes, full of the life and love of God.
As a community, we can live the maxims perfectly. As a community of love, we can become perfect as God is perfect. We can build the kingdom in our time.