The Face of Jesus
February 19, 2017
Awaken Us O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer. AMEN
Today’s Gospel message is important, because it is so very central to the building up of the Body of Christ. Loving your enemies is a message that I believe our polarized nation needs to hear today it is a message that every Christian, in fact, every American needs to receive.
It is hard to imagine a time when we were more polarized, more separated from love, more divided from one another, more separated from Jesus. It is hard to imagine a time when we were more committed to hating our enemies, or more committed to building our lists of enemies, or more blind to the face of Jesus!
In today’s Gospel Jesus says, But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. Listen to that second part again, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. Jesus does not merely suggest that we Love our enemies. He makes Loving your enemies a requirement for being a child of God.
The Gospel message continues for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. Nowhere does Jesus say our Father in Heaven wants us to make a list of our enemies. Jesus is saying that the Father in Heaven touches all of His children, the sun and the rain reach all, and so must we.
Let us consider another very polarized time in our history, the Civil Rights Movement in 1957 when Martin Luther King Jr. engaged America with the idea that the civil rights movement should be driven by the Christian ideal of loving enemies.
This was also a time filled with Hate and polarization, this is taken from Martin Luther King’s message on Loving your Enemies “Now I know not everyone is going to like you, they may not like you because of the way you walk or the way you talk, they may not like you because of the brightness of your skin, or because of the darkness of your skin. They may just not like you, but that doesn’t mean you must hate them, because then they will just hate you, and the universe of Hate will just grow and grow. Some Person must have enough religion and enough morality to cut off the hate and interject the strong element of Love within the very structure of this universe.”
A minister at American Baptist College in Nashville Tennessee kept a bumper sticker from the 50s on her door, it said “I am pretty sure that when Jesus said Love your enemies, he didn’t mean kill them”.
What did he mean for us to do about enemies? Now, I am pretty sure
he didn’t mean hate them, or smile at them and gossip about them behind their back, or exclude them from your groups. It is human nature to be drawn to or away from certain people. It is of human nature not to love all. It is of divine nature to love all.
We know Saint Paul’s church at Corinth suffered Divisions. in I Corinthinians 1:10 Paul said, “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided?
Sociologists tell us that Americans are more divided on Sunday Mornings than any other day of the week. During a hospital Pastoral visit this past week I was asked to explain why “those Catholics worshipped and Prayed to Mary”. I answered by saying part of the Rosary’s Prayer Hail Mary, “Holy Mary, mother of God Pray for us Sinners now, and at the hour of our death” This is a Prayer not to, but through Mary asking her to Pray for us, to intercede on our behalf. Even revering The Mother of God is sometimes taken to divide our denominations.
Jesus called for us to be one. In the Gospel of John Jesus said, “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (Jn 17:20–21).
Let us look at another time and place for the Virgin Mary’s story to surprise us. It is from the Traditional Islamic Story of the Negus of Abyssinia, “In the early 7th Century, a Christian King Negus Ashama ibn Abjar ruled the Kingdom of Axum, a land also known as Abyssinia, part of modern-day Ethiopia.
Some of the pagan leaders in Mecca had begun to persecute Muhammad’s followers. The Muslims were mocked and assaulted, others had their businesses boycotted and some were imprisoned in chains. Those who had no protection fled for refuge to Abyssinia where they had heard of the famed mercy and equity shown by this King Negus.
When the Meccan persecutors found out about their flight from Arabia, they sent representatives to appeal to the Negus for their return, sweetening their appeal with gifts for him. They raised the issue of differences between the Muslims and Christians regarding the nature of Jesus. The Meccan persecutor’s spokesman tried to use these differences to convince King Negus to ally with the Meccans in persecuting the Muslims.
But the king was a wise and fair man. Instead, he invited the Muslim followers of Muhammad, to speak again. They responded by quoting from The Holy Qur’an,
“He said, “I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy.” She said, “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?” He said, “Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.’ So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place.”
(Surah 19 verses 19 -22 the English translated commentary)
“It is said that, after this reading the Negus cried, and picked up a thin stick and said, “I swear, the difference between what we believe about Jesus, the Son of Mary, and what you have said is not greater than the width of this twig.” He then refused to turn over the Muslim refugees and returned the gifts that the Meccans had hoped would sway his judgment.“
Our stories and traditions do not need to divide us, but they can be sources of unity to build church upon, if we can focus on the humanity we share in common, rather than focusing on that which divides us.
In todays Epistle Lesson, Saint Paul warns the Corinthians to avoid the traps of their secular world, Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.
Saint Paul goes on to show us how to think of church building, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ” Jesus gave us a very certain foundation for church, it is Love. It is with the tolerance that this Love demands that we might see the face of Jesus in every enemy we encounter.
I will close by sharing a Favorite image of Church: It is part metaphor and part not, it is an image of a complex place and a diverse community, a City of God. Written by a Benedictine Monk, Father Cyprian Davis, the 70th African American Ordained a Catholic Priest, author of The History of Black Catholics In the United States, and my spiritual director until his passing last year:
“I like to picture the Church as a very large family living in an ancient, rambling old house with solid foundations, enormous apartments, and a jumble of architectural styles that somehow never clash. Enormous cellars, musty libraries, huge fireplaces, grand staircases turning into narrow twisting ladders and sometimes disappearing all together, bricked-up windows and doorways barely masking the sound of unseen voices on the other side, meandering corridors, lofty ceilings, narrow cubicles, secret passageways, gorgeous chandeliers, and marvelous frescoes partly discolored, all of this together found in this old house. Somehow we all live here, some are here whom we do not see, some we see but we cannot reach, some are lost and we do not know how to reach them. But this house stands, for it was built on rock.”
LET US BUILD THE CITY OF GOD.