Homily for February 20th, 2016:
Nowhere in the Bible do we find the command which Jesus cites in the gospel reading today: “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Jesus is citing not Scripture but general public opinion when he refers to a command to hate your enemy. Speaking not as an interpreter of the law, but as the Lawgiver (we saw yesterday that he does this repeatedly in the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus states what we could call the new law of God: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” The book Leviticus has something similar, but limits its application to Jews: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.” (19:18) Jesus, in effect, lifts the limitation to Jews and makes the command universal. How could he do this? Because this is how Jesus himself lived.
The 12th century English Benedictine, Abbot Aelred writes about this in a work called The Mirror of Love. Here is what he says.
“He who is more fair than all men offered his fair face to be spat upon by sinful men ; he allowed those eyes that rule the universe to be blindfolded by wicked men; he bared his back to the scourges; he submitted that head which strokes terror in principalities and powers to the sharpness of the thorns; he gave himself up to be mocked and reviled, and at the end endured the cross, the nails, the lance, the gall, the vinegar, remaining always gentle, meek, and full of peace.”
Jesus also prayed for his tormentors, Aelred reminds us, saying “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And so, Aelred writes, “If someone wishes to love himself … he must enlarge the horizon of his love to contemplate the loving gentleness of the humanity of the Lord. … If he wishes to prevent this fire of divine love from growing cold because of injuries received, let him keep the eyes of his soul always fixed on the serene patience of his beloved Lord and Savior [Jesus Christ].” (Breviary Office of Readings, Friday of the first week of Lent.)