A HOMILY ON THE GOSPEL READING
FOR THE NINETEENTH SUNDAY
About Love for Others, and About Not Judging Them
Brothers and sisters,
In the Gospel reading we heard today, the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to treat all people exactly as we want them to treat us: lovingly, sincerely, and with a pure heart; with condescension towards their human shortcomings; patiently; with goodwill; in a simple, natural way; and with an open, honest soul. As ye would that men should do to you, He says, do ye also to them likewise. Have respect and love for every person; wish everyone well from the bottom of your heart; feel pity for your neighbor who falls into temptations, misfortunes, and sorrows; look for opportunities to show others kindness; think nothing bad about another without an absolutely compelling reason. Do not remember what a person may have done wrong in the past — the only past wrongs you have a right to dwell on are those you are guilty of — but think upon the best aspects of each man’s personality, upon his noblest intentions and aspirations. If someone has in fact behaved poorly, suppose that he has repented, or, if not, that he is innocently oblivious of having done wrong. You, too, have done much that is unseemly in the eyes of God and men, doubtless much more than you are aware. Where would you find yourself if everyone judged you without compassion?
Cover all things with love and condescension; regard the sinner as a man battling with a disease, a disease of the soul with which you are more gravely afflicted than he, for you are often well aware that the temptation before you is sinful, but you choose it anyway. Do not return evil for evil, but when a person acts with hostility towards you, make a special effort to display affection and respect for him. If he continues to rebuff you, retreat with dignity and without rancor. Recognize when you have allowed ill-will to enter your soul, and realize that your task is not to make others behave as you would like them to, but to mold your own heart and feelings so that they are as Christ would have them. It is a very noble thing to forbid uncharitable feelings to enter our hearts: these have no place in the hearts of Christians, not for a moment. But we do allow such feelings not only to enter our hearts, but to become rooted there. Eventually they grow into enormous trees called attitudes towards others, and mighty trees are very hard to uproot. Thus, instead of overcoming evil with good, to evil we add worse evil: we pour fuel onto a little fire, and make of it a roaring flame.
If we meditate seriously on the Lord’s words in today’s Gospel, we will perceive that they apply directly to us, to our evil, self-centered, confused way of reacting to whatever we find unpleasant in life. For we truly love only those who love us — and often we do not love even them. We love those with whom we can spill out the rottenness in our soul and receive approval for it. But those who do not agree with the bad attitudes we cultivate in ourselves, we do not love; and when they, even if mildly or indirectly, try to awaken us to the harm we cause ourselves and others thereby, then we begin to feel active antagonism towards them. We love those who are willing in some way to become our partners in sin. We do not love those who do not love us, who are cold to us, disdain us, are harsh to us, offend us, seek to get back at us, or who simply disagree with us. Worse, we do not love those who refuse to sin with us, or (God forbid!) who try to ward us off from sin. For example, we choose as friends those who share our enthusiasm for gossip and criticism of others, but resent the person who frankly corrects us for this fault or for any of our other imperfections. We even resent the person who simply avoids bad conversations with us. This is sinful and leads us deeper into sin; it is egotistical, and makes it plain that we are full of self-love and pride, and that we idolize ourselves and our passions; that we are guilty of idolatry and are far from God.
Christ teaches us to struggle to overcome the inclinations of our hearts, to prevail against the sin conceived in them; to go against our own desires, not once, not twice, but always; to swim against the current of our fallen nature; to renounce ourselves. For laypeople, self-renunciation does not mean giving up houses, bank accounts, or automobiles, which are necessary for them to live in the world: it means going against one’s inclinations and desires, against having things as one would; and it means having love for all. It is no great thing to do good to those who do good to us: even people who do not believe in the Gospel, who have not been renewed by grace, who have not received the adoption, do as much. But we who are God’s children through Baptism, whom Christ does not disdain to call His brothers, should behave as our high calling demands; that is, we should try to be charitable towards everyone. So doing, we should understand that this in no way shelters us from future rebuffs and unpleasantness; instead, it ensures that the devil, seeing us now on Christ’s path, the path to salvation, will try even harder to use others to trip us up. We should always expect temptations from others, even from those closest to us, and even from those whom we love and respect most. But with the Lord’s help we will recognize these provocations for what they are: God-given opportunities to root out the evil in our own hearts, not occasions for us to become agitated either externally or internally, or to lash back by one means or another. Responsibility for these temptations we will attach to the devil; our brother we will regard as a benefactor, who shows up our pettiness, and we will pray for him as such; and unto our good God, Who in His providence wisely uses a rough brush to scrub out the stubborn stains on our souls, we will send up thanksgiving and glory for all things. Amen.