Loving as God Loves

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Love your enemies!
Do good and lend without expecting a return!
Your reward will be great.
You will be children of the Most High,
for he himself is kind to those who are without kindness and are evil.
Become compassionate as your father is compassionate.
Do not judge and you will not be judged.
Do not condemn and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and it will be given to you.
A fine measure, one pressed down and shaken up and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
By the measure you use to measure, you will be measured in return.
Luke 6: 35-38

For the ancient world, as for us, the core moral teaching is to do to others as we would have them do to us, or as the Talmudic and other traditions articulate it, not to do to others what we would not have them do to us. How we would want others to treat us is the measure of how we are to treat others.

But in Luke’s gospel, Jesus carries the teaching a bit further. We are called not only to behave as we would want others to behave toward us, but we are to behave as God “behaves”. The Kingdom of God consists of those whose actions in the world mirror (or channel) the action of God. The characteristics of God that Jesus calls us to emulate are generosity, compassion, and forgiveness/mercy. God’s kindness to us does not depend on our virtue. The basis of God’s giving in our regard is not reciprocity; that is, unlike the teachings of the gospel of capitalism and consumerism, God does not “reward” us for our righteousness and goodness. God is kind and merciful to the the sinner as well as the “faithful.”

In this light, we can understand the dramatic injunctions of today’s gospel. We can only really begin to “know God” by behaving in ways that are very difficult for us: “loving our enemies, blessing those who curse us, lending to those who will never pay us back.” As long as our view of reality coincides with our unconscious demands to keep ourselves at the center, we can only know a God who is reduced to our size, a God, to reverse the teaching of Isaiah, “whose thoughts are our thoughts and whose ways are our ways.” (Is 55: 8) The dispositions of our heart are necessarily largely formed out of our need for self-protection. Thus, a call to be generous to those from whom we feel threatened is a call to a radically different mode of being and acting. It is to release our sense of being a separate being whose prime responsibility is self-preservation and to begin to know a Divine life whose very essence is generosity and self- giving. It is a call to begin to practice a way of relating to the world and others that will draw us into the very life of God.

St. Teresa of Avila and other great mystics of all traditions come to see the deeper stages of prayer as the experience of a well that is deep within us and which is always pouring out life and love to and through us. Today’s gospel reminds us that we come to this water in the stillness of prayer, to be sure, but also by practicing loving as God loves — by overcoming the fear and meanness in ourselves that keeps us from knowing that the very nature of life is mercy and love.

During the Suez crisis of 1956, Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary General of the United Nations, wrote to David Ben-Gurion of Israel of an imperative to serve something beyond what appeared to be “immediate duty” in order that a “higher duty” might be served. In critical, as well as often in quite ordinary moments, we are summoned to transcend our typical reactions and comprehensions that we might enter into the Divine flow and its call to us, not to merely reflect our own (or our own people’s) limited and self-centered motives but rather to serve “as an instrument of thy peace.”

Hammarskjold wrote:

I fear that in our never-abandoned efforts to get nearer to the target we have in common–in your case peace for Israel, in my case perhaps just simply peace–we may have reached a dead point . . . .Such a situation requires some boldness. Indeed, it seems to me to be a situation where we must individually try to transcend our immediate duty in order to fulfill the higher duty of creative action. You know that my personal confidence in your ability in this respect has never flagged.

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