The Servant of God, Dorothy Day was fond of saying, “God understands us when we try to love.”
Now, the love of our neighbor does not begin with Jesus or with Christians. Already in the Book of Leviticus we see the writer telling the people to love one’s neighbor. However, human beings love loopholes. So, many people interpreted this commandment as a law to love my fellow Israelite only.
Well, then Jesus comes along and he pushed the envelope, he challeneges our comfort zones. Not only are we to love our fellow Christians, we are to love the stranger, those who demand things from us, and even an enemy. Yes, he said, “enemy.” Non-friend. Non-buddy. A non-person. Yes, he said, “enemy,” a word that we Christians wish would go away. But what if we took this teaching seriously, what would happen? What would love look like?
Meet Julio Diaz. Every night, the social worker in his late thirties ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one-stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner. But one night some years ago, as Diaz steps off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening takes an unexpected turn. He is walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approaches and pulls out a knife. “He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,’” Diaz says. As the teen begins to walk away, Diaz tells him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.” The would-be robber looks at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’” Diaz replies: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome. “You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help,” Diaz says. Diaz says he and the teen go into the diner and sit in a booth. “The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi,” Diaz says. “The kid is like, ‘you know everybody here. Do you own this place?’” “No, I just eat here a lot,” Diaz, says he told the teen. “He says, ‘but you’re even nice to the dishwasher.’” Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?” “Yea, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teen said. Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. “He just had almost a sad face,” Diaz says. The teen couldn’t answer Diaz — or he didn’t want to. When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this ‘cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.” The teen “didn’t even think about it” and returned the wallet, Diaz says. “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.” Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen’s knife — “and he gave it to me.”
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect, Jesus tells us today. A better translation is “Be mature, just as God is mature.” St. Matthew does not mean act like an adult. He means act like a complete Christian. We all have someone we dislike, we hate. I can think of at least one person right now whom I dislike passionately. And when I think of this person, when I feel the feelings of resentment and hatred, I am an immature Christian. I hear it said all the time, “Eye for an eye,” “A tooth for a tooth.” When we quote the scriptures to justify capital punishment or torture, we are like people in motion sickness.
You can think of at least one person right now who is not deserving of your love, correct? It is part of being human. But, as temples of the Holy Spirit, our temples are incomplete and immature as long as a corner remains darkened, as long as the dust of hatred and resentment cloud the altar of our hearts. At this Eucharist, Christ wishes to celebrate the feast of forgiveness with us because when all is said and done, “God understands us when we try to love.”
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
7th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Photograph of St. Teresa of Calcutta
by Fr. Robert Buday, O.S.B.
Chicago, St. Procopius Parish