Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 and the most unlikely Gospel

There are four Gospels: four accounts of our Lord's life, teachings, death and resurrection. And in the pattern of readings for the daily Mass, these Gospels are distributed across the whole year. There had to be something, then, in Divine Providence that every so often, like today, the Gospel passage assigned to the universal calendar speaks with a clarity that tells us that this Word of the Lord is very much intended for us, in real life, here and now.
What is the Gospel for this Thursday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time, which in 2008 happens to fall on the anniversary of a dreadful and deadly attack? "Love your enemies."
If we were able to vote off Gospel passages like so many contestants in a reality show, this one would probably rank right next to Jesus' teachings about divorce. It's something most of us might wish just weren't there. Especially in the face of enormous evil, of real, sworn enemies. Things as big as 9/11 can make us dismiss the whole teaching as impossible, even on a small, personal level.
That's where the first reading proves us wrong. Because in a way, St. Paul is telling the Corinthians about loving their enemies.
The situation was quite different, of course. In a culture where any meat served at meals or sold in the market had probably been part of an animal sacrifice to a pagan god, could Christians eat meat without participating in idolatry? The more sophisticated members of the Church felt free to enjoy any food whatever, but some of the brethren were scandalized. So the weak were imposing on the strong. We tend to think of an enemy as stronger in some way--at least as strong enough to do us harm. Paradoxically, in Corinth, it was the weak who had become the "enemy." And Paul said submitting to the chafing limits they imposed on one's freedom of menu was loving one's enemy. It was a way of protecting the soul of "one for whom Christ died" (Paul's new definition of "neighbor"). Paul doesn't say it, but it is clear that he expects the "weak" of Corinth to love their enemies by refusing to judge them.
"Be merciful as the Heavenly Father," for "while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son." For Paul, this is everything.

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