Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Today's Saint: Dionysius the Areopagite
2 Corinthians 11:31–12:9
Fr. Marty Nagy
Glory to Jesus Christ! Слава Ісусу Христу!
Jesus said love God and love your neighbor as yourself. He left the door open for us to love others, using our creativity, intuitions, imaginations, intelligence, and talents. There is no limit to love. In today’s Gospel, though, Jesus gives five ways of loving where the rubber meets the road. Jesus pictures for us what loving without limits looks like. We might have a visceral reaction as we imagine what this would feel like.
The first way to love is known as the “Golden Rule”: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Someone’s pushing a stalled car, you help push. That’s what you’d want someone to do for you.
Then, Jesus says, “Love your enemy.” How does that look paired with “Do to others as you would have them do to you”? How would we want our enemy to treat us when we’re at our worst? Jesus says, if roles were reversed how would you want to be treated? We might say, “I would never treat anyone that way.” Doesn’t matter.
Sure, we need to set boundaries or take appropriate measures in certain situations, but don’t hurt back, if possible. Show respect even when disrespected. Another’s action doesn’t dictate our response or behavior. We don't want imitate any disrespect we encounter. Rather, Jesus says be like your heavenly Father.
St. Paul says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink….Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20, 21).
Then Jesus says, “Do good.” Everyone here, at times, does good, expecting nothing in return. Every parent does this. Everyone who helps out around the home. Every friend. But what about doing good for those we don’t know or don’t like or that put themselves into a mess?
If we tell a child “Don’t play with that,” and they play with it and get hurt and need stitches, we don’t say, “You got what you deserved” and let them bleed. We run them to the hospital.
Because of the way the word justice is used today, we too often think of justice as merely consequences for actions. But the classical understanding of justice, or the Church Fathers sense of justice, or Catholic social teaching is to give everyone what is due to them or to treat others fairly. Every person is owed the portion of the earth’s or human resources necessary to thrive. Justice then includes meeting one another’s needs, and righting or reconciling relationships.
Every person needs food, clothing, shelter, and love. So, to be fair, we need to make sure everyone has access to these. As we are able, justice calls us to ensure that these essentials are available to anyone who lacks them. If we have the means to give these essentials to others who do not have them and cannot get them on their own, then justice calls us to give these to them.
God’s justice works like this, too. We cannot save or free ourselves from sin and death. God alone can, so, God Himself, in His justice, saved and freed us through His (Jesus’s) Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection.
Like our heavenly Father, some of us have the wherewithal to vanquish others’ poverty by meeting their needs. And we can conquer others’ hearts by feeding their hunger for love.
“Lend without expecting repayment.” You all are good-hearted people. Probably more than once you’ve picked up a check at a restaurant or gave something without expecting to be paid back. How about if whenever our neighbor calls, we lend a hand, but they’re never available to help us. We still do it, but it might rub us the wrong way. Or what if we help someone out of a jam they got themselves into and expect them to make better choices next time, but they don’t? Jesus says, don’t worry about it. Love them anyway. (None of us our perfect either, anyway.)
Mother Teresa had a poem inscribed on the wall of her children’s home in Calcutta that said:
If you are kind, people may accuse you of…ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give…the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
This is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway.
Proverbs 19:17 says: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord will repay him for his deed.” The Jewish people have a tradition of almsgiving based on this thought. When Jesus says “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” He is alluding to this tradition. They counted on God to put up the collateral for their almsgiving. The poor could not pay them back, but God is good for it. Almsgiving is an effective prayer.
A few years ago, my son, Eli, was struggling. I began giving alms as prayer for him. Then I added to this prayer by asking the people I gave alms to, to pray for him. All over the country homeless and financially challenged people, and some unlikely people, prayed for him. I’ve seen the effects of those prayers. He’s doing much better now. And who knows how lending their prayers to him has stored up a treasure for them and blessed them?
Jesus makes a promise in today’s Gospel. He says: Your recompense will be great. God backs us when we lend to the poor, love our enemies, or in justice and mercy, do good to others. But there’s more to it than some return on investment. Jesus says: you will be children of the Most High. In today’s Gospel, then, Jesus has been revealing God’s character. This is how God treats us. He loves His enemies. He does good for us and gives to us, knowing we can never repay Him.
This is Divine Love. Since it is Divine Love, we need to ask God to help us love this way. We cannot love this way on our own.
Loving this way will transform us. It makes us like Jesus and the Father. It’s a means God has given us to help us in our salvation and sanctification, our theosis. Loving this way might cause some suffering.
In the first reading, St. Paul was suffering. Three times he prayed, Come on, Lord, take this away. But God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, My power is made perfect in weakness.” So, St. Paul came to understand that our suffering is a conduit for Christ’s glory to dwell in us. The book of James says: Count it all joy, when you face trials, because these perfect and complete you until you’re lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4) So, we ask the Father to help us face challenges and sufferings with patience and trust in Him, and we ask Him to help us let these sufferings transform us and others.
We learn compassion from our own suffering because we know what it feels like to be in another’s shoes. You all show empathy towards others and help them out. How did you get to that point? Probably by suffering yourselves. You know what it’s like to be in a difficult situation or make a mistake.
Jesus says: Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. How does the Father show us compassion? When we were still sinners, He sent Jesus to rescue us from our sin. In other words, the Father shows compassion by being quick to help us out of a jam when we mess up our lives and our world.
St Hesychius says, “Compassion for others and sympathy for their failings will bring the heart closer to the heart of God than any form of judging.” And St. Philo says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
Jesus says, the Father even is good to the ungrateful and wicked. Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” When Jesus was dying on the cross, few people thanked Him. But the thief on the cross next to Him consoled Him with thoughtful words and asked: Remember me in Your kingdom.
Jesus, in turn, says to us, remember Me. He said, what you do to the least you do to Me. Mother Teresa says that those in need are Jesus in disguise. She said, “This is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
St. John of the Cross says, “Where there is no love, put love—and you will find love.” Likewise, where there is no gratitude, put gratitude. When we love the ungrateful, we can offer the thanks ourselves. We are called to do thankless jobs thankfully. How do we add thanks to a situation where no one thanks us?
We do this by saying, “Thank you, Jesus, for the opportunity to serve You by serving this person. Thank you, God, for giving me the know-how and resources needed to share with others."
“Thank you, God, that when I’m at my worst you stay with me. Thank you, Father, for increasing my capacity to love by bringing this person into my life. Thank you, Father, that you never give up on me."
“Thank God I am alive. Thank you for the colorful sunset and Your beautiful creation. For the smell of roses and fresh brewed coffee. For the songs of birds and the voices of children.”
We can pray, “Father, this situation or person is hard for me. Thank You for helping me get through this. Thank You for helping me feel loved today.”
Each day, take time to think about the Father’s compassion. St. John’s epistle tells us that we can love because the Father first loved us. You cannot give away what you don’t have. So, take time each day to let God love you. Stop and savor the Father’s love for you. But don’t stop there. Savor every glimpse of love and goodness you can find.
Let go of the way you felt slighted and savor more moments in life. I caught myself, while hiking in Colorado this summer, remembering a situation with someone that upset me and ruminating over it. Surrounded by God’s beauty, but I was not breathing in any of it or letting it refresh me.
There is a time to work on problems, and heal and reconcile relationships. There’s also a time to let go and enjoy God’s compassion. If we find our minds complaining or indignant for the thankless work we’re doing, remember, we have a Father who lets people eat, breathe, live, and enjoy the work of His hands, and many people don’t even acknowledge He exists. Be compassionate to our Father and thank Him. Say thank you even for the difficult stuff because it’s increasing your capacity to love.
But when your trials feel like they’re too much, please, reach out to someone and let them love you. Each of us needs our love tanks filled.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen