7th Ordinary Sunday (A) Matthew 5:38-48

Abraham Lincoln tried to love during the course of his life, and he left for all history a magnificent drama of reconciliation for the entire nation. When he was campaigning for the presidency, one of his arch-enemies was a man named Edwin Stanton. For reasons we will never know Stanton hated Lincoln. He used every ounce of his energy to degrade Lincoln in the eyes of the people. So deep-rooted was Stanton’s hatred for Lincoln that he used insulting words about his physical appearance, and tried to embarrass him at every opportunity with bitter diatribes. But, in spite of this, Lincoln was elected the sixteenth president of the United States.

After the election Lincoln selected Edwin Stanton his Secretary of War, called today the Secretary of Defense. There was an immediate uproar among the president’s inner circle when the news began to spread. Advisors and friends warned, “Mr. President, you are making a terrible mistake.”

Lincoln’s answer was terse and to the point: “I know Mr. Stanton. I am aware of all the terrible things he said about me. But after looking over the nation, I find he is the best man for the job.” So, Stanton became Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War and provided an invaluable service to his nation and to his president.

When Lincoln was assassinated, of all the great things that were said about him, the words of Stanton stood out loud and strong. Standing next to the bier in the capital rotunda, next to the man he once hated, Stanton said, “he was one of the greatest men who ever lived, he now belongs to the ages.”

If Lincoln had shared hatred with Stanton both men would have gone to their graves as bitter enemies. But through the power of love Lincoln transformed an enemy into a friend. This my friends is the moral of the gospel of Jesus. This is redemptive love given to an enemy whom we are asked to love. G.K. Chesterton once said, “We are commanded to love our neighbors and our enemies; they are generally the same people.” In other words they are the people we deal with on a daily basis. It is easy to love all the people in China and Europe, we have no contact with them.

This is a lesson that is very difficult for the human being because we cannot fully understand the depth and the reality of Divine love. — God is love. — Therefore he cannot hate anything he has created because he created it out of love. Jesus is saying a Christian has no personal enemies. His only enemy is evil, that is — sin, but not the sinner. Jesus puts this into practice with those who crucify him: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” This is the height of Christian perfection — to love and pray for even those who persecute and hate us.

It is this love of neighbor that sets Christians apart from all other religions in the world. It is this lesson of love that can be the method of overcoming the Muslims, atheists, abortionists of this world. How difficult would that be? The final sentence of the gospel is a summary of this teaching of Jesus. It is quite impossible for a created being to be as perfect as God. What our Lord means in this statement is that God’s own perfection should be the model that every one tries to follow, even though we realize the huge chasm that separates us from the Creator.

Although this is a difficult commandment to live up to, we must take into account the enormous help grace gives us to continue to work toward divine perfection. The context here refers to love and mercy. St. Luke quotes these same words of our Lord: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” This teaching is what sets Christianity apart from all other religions, all other philosophies in the world.