Homily of 24th February 2019
1Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; Psalm 102; 1Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38
“To you who hear I say, “Love your enemies.”
Saint Paul tells us that the entire Gospel is summed up in the word,
“Love your neighbor as yourself,”
and that love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:9-10).
Love of enemies, then, is the fulfillment of love.
Love of enemies is loving perfectly and loving to the end.
It is a very high bar.
Love of enemies is one of those things about our faith
for which we on our own lack all sufficiency to achieve.
Love of enemies is one of those things about which Saint Bernard says,
“What nature cannot do, grace can” (SC 44.6).
And this itself is the fulfillment of the Gospel,
not that we love God, but God loved us first,
loved us, says Saint Paul, even when we were enemies.
Our sufficiency in the matter of love is entirely God’s grace;
our only merit, as Bernard reminds us, is that we lack all merit.
Our sufficiency is Christ.
The love by which I love
is the fruit of my beloved’s love in me (SC 44.8).
If love of enemies is the fulfillment of the law,
Paul tells us that the last enemy is death,
and so we are brought to this:
to embrace in gracious love and tenderness
that which will destroy us, death at every turn,
the last enemy by which loving we make a friend.
David could have killed his mortal enemy Saul but didn’t.
He took his spear and jug as trophies
to prove his mildness and forbearance,
perhaps his love.
David did the same another time when Saul was in the bathroom,
in a posture in any case
that would have made his self-defense impossible.
Then, David cut a corner off Saul’s cloak as a trophy and a proof
of his not having done to his enemy what he could have done, killed him.
You could write a pretty lively novel about life in a monastic community
centered around how monks choose to make use of opportunities
to kill one another, or refuse to.
As we say and as we know,
looks can kill,
a word can kill,
the inflection of the voice, a rolling of the eyes,
a silence carefully placed can kill, a turning of the body,
a hint or innuendo, passive-aggressive shaming,
not to mention actual physical violence that is not unknown
even in monasteries.
The same occasions for killing you find in families, too,
in parish communities,
and in all those human associations where you know
that especially there love should reign.
The temptation to hurt is strongest where love is professed and owed.
So these occasions to kill the other
are occasions, even more, to kill ourselves
by refusing to yield to the temptation to kill.
They are occasions to die to ourselves
and to embrace that death as an opening to the renewal of love.
Refusing, too, to take trophies.
David claimed a bit of glory for himself, immortal renown, really,
at the expense of exposing Saul’s vulnerability.
David did a righteous deed, but then let his left hand know
what his right had done.
John Cassian tells us how high the bar of love is set:
When Jesus said, “If anyone strikes you on your right cheek,
offer him the other as well,”
he gave us, says Cassian, “the formula of gospel perfection.
He did not want us to follow it by mere lip service
but to remove completely the dregs of wrath
from the inmost depths of the soul” (Conf 16.22).
Saint John tells us in his Gospel
that Jesus knew the kind of death he was going to die;
he knew his entire life
all the things that were coming upon him.
Jesus is the last Adam; he is a life-giving spirit.
Jesus’ entire life was a dying, a befriending in love of the final enemy
for the sake of the life of the world.
This is the beauty of the spiritual manifest in the earthly;
it is the revelation of heaven on earth.
It is the pattern of our life on this earth
who are united through baptism and Eucharist
with the one who loved us to the end,
embracing death that all might have the fullness of life.
In this light, the bar for us is not so high,
only has high as the Cross and him who embraced it first.
easily traced. But this, though: death,
the whole of death,−even before life has begun,
to hold it so gently, and not to be resentful:
This is beyond description” (R. M. Rilke Duino Elegies 4).