1 Kings 21:17-29
The whole Sermon on the Mount leads up to the most radical command of Jesus: "love your enemies". Love Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Osama bin Laden, the attackers of 9/11, the Taliban? Is Jesus crazy? How loving is God toward King Ahab when Elijah pronounces God’s judgment that dogs will lick the blood of his wife and children in streets of Samaria? What kind of love is Jesus talking about?
While we have one word for love, the Greek language has four: love for family members, love and attraction for someone of the opposite sex, love of friendship, and finally unconquerable benevolence and good will. It is the latter kind of love that Jesus requires of us for the Greek word Matthew uses is agape to convey Jesus’ meaning.
The first three kind of love are very well known and experienced by us. The reality of these loves is relational. We give and receive. We embrace and enjoy the other person’s presence. We love and are loved in return. There is a warm feeling and joy that pervade our whole being when we are with the other. This is the love of the heart. Jesus notes that tax collectors and pagans are capable of the first three kinds of love.
What does agape call us to? It calls us to an unconditional regard and respect for every human being and to desire nothing for the other person except his or her highest good. In practical terms Jesus put it this way: "pray for those who persecute you". Implied in this stance is to refrain from bitterness in our hearts no matter how someone has treated us, insulted us, injured us or grieved us. Agape requires a great act of the will. We cannot do this unless Jesus and his Spirit help us.
Finally if we allow Jesus to live in us and inform our lives we have a chance to be perfect. The root meaning of the Greek word is to be fulfilled or completed. We say today: "Be all that you can be." It is the "heavenly Father" that calls us and enables us to reach the purpose or end for which we were created.
While this reflection seems abstract if we look at our everyday lives we feel how radical it is to take the agape stance in all our actions.
Fr. Mike Hoolahan, C.P. is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.