And as you would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love those that love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? For sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again: and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for He is kind unto the unthankful, and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful(Luke 6:31-36).
Jesus left us no writings and no dogmas. He left us a simple message displayed in both His words and His deeds. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.” That’s it. Jesus left us with a way of life.
“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisee you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Jesus sets the bar very high. As high as it can possibly go. It is not enough to have good intentions. Jesus asks us to have better-than-good intentions and to live them out in concrete ways. The Lord always cuts to the quick, not satisfied in a change of behavior alone, but calling for a change of mind. The Ten Commandments say we should not kill, but Jesus goes further saying that we should not even allow anger to gain a foothold in our hearts. We may get angry with someone and not murder them and that is good, but the spiritual life is meant for the total eradication of evil thoughts so that sin may have no place in us to grow at all. So when an angry thought rises from the storehouse of our souls, we meet it and deal with it before it takes root and grows. If we do that, then there is no sin, no suffering and no crime. The Liturgy calls us to both “think and do what is pleasing to God.” This transformation of mind and heart is not an instantaneous thing; it is a process over which we have some real control. Once the mind and heart are transformed the results are amazing.
St. Paul writes in his letter to Titus, “To the pure all things are pure but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.” That is, the pure in heart project from inside themselves purity. They are so filled with God they bless those who curse them and do good to those who seek to despitefully use them just as Jesus did. They notice the suffering of people, but do not judge them, knowing that if they act out in unfortunate ways it is because of their suffering, or fear, or ignorance. The saints pray for the healing of sinners and their enlightenment so that the suffering that causes unhealthy thoughts and actions may cease.
Listen to these quotes from St. Nikitas Stethatos and St. Maximus the Confessor.
The nature of things is measured by the interior disposition of the soul; that is, the kind of person one is will determine what he thinks of others. He who has attained to genuine prayer and love no longer puts things into categories. He does not separate the righteous from sinners, but loves all equally, and does not judge them, just as God gives the sun to shine and the rain to fall both on the just and the unjust.
The one who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of detachment knows no distinction between one’s own and another’s, between faithful and unfaithful, between slave and freeman, or indeed between male and female. But…having risen above the tyranny of the passions and looking to the one nature of men he regards all equally and is equally disposed toward all. For in him there is neither Greek nor Jew, neither male nor female, neither slave nor freeman, but Christ is everything and in everything.
Amazing isn’t it?
We must struggle to purify our hearts and mind and strive to put pure intentions into action. One real test of faith is how much we love our enemies. Another is how many strings there are attached to our charity. If we follow Christ, we will have no enemies and there should be no strings attached to our giving. We should not expect nor desire to be paid back for any kindness we perform. Jesus goes even further by saying that we should give secretly, so that no one even knows what we are doing. “Let the right not know what the left hand is doing.” To be loving as God is loving, forgiving as God is forgiving, merciful as God is merciful, to be blind to class, ethnicity and any other distinction that might cause to be repulsed by another.
So what are we doing? Are our lives governed by the plain meaning of these words or by something else?
We are called to rise above what is “typical” human behavior. We are not called to be just good human beings, but perfect human beings. “The glory of God is a human being fully realized.” To be a perfect human being is to be like God. Anything in our thoughts and behavior that doesn’t reflect the love of God is to be discarded and repented.
And now my favorite quote of the year. Many of you have heard it before, but please hear it again.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depth of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the Divine. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed….I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.