This Gospel from the Sermon on the Plain and its message are just that – plain, direct, clear. ‘Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you; turn the other cheek; be merciful, stop judging, give, forgive. Do to others as you would have them do to you’. All of these are good guides for all of us whatever our vocations or stage in life. The seriousness of Jesus’ teaching is reflected in the fearsome reminder: ‘for the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you’. That ought to give us all pause.
Scholars tell us that a measure was used to parcel out grain; those who Jesus was speaking to would have understood the image. A measure could be filled to the top and leveled off, or it could be filled heaping with grain falling over the sides which would be appreciated by the recipient but more costly to the provider. Which way do we measure our respect for others, our giving, our forgiveness. It can be calculated like the dispersal of gas, calibrated to the tenth of a gallon with automatic shutoff, or it could be freewheeling, just let it keep coming as needed. The difference is that when our love and respect for others is calculated the focus is on us, what minimum must I do. When it is overflowing, we respond to what is needed by others and by what is the right thing to do regardless of the personal sacrifice.
We are called to live out these pithy precepts in part for our own good. They allow us to grow in holiness and live with fewer self-imposed burdens and less anxiety. We ought to follow them also as a way to live out our baptismal call to be God’s instrument of grace, love and peace for others.
Jesus said: ‘love your enemies.’ Most of us would be hard pressed to identify enemies; nations have enemies. Yet we on occasion can treat others in hostile ways. For instance how do we react when someone cuts in front of us on the highway, reactive rage or gratitude for our safety? Or how do we respond to someone who differs with us on an issue in the parish? Can we be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful as Jesus urges. Saint Mother Teresa once said that the true measure of our love is how well we love the ones we love the least, those we have trouble liking, those who drive us nuts or who differ with us in some way.
When I was in Air Force Officer Training School there was one fellow who drove me nuts. He talked constantly, complained about everything and belittled others unmercifully. I led inspection one morning and gave him a demerit for inadequately shined shoes. If you have ever tried to see how well black boots shine in the dark of 4:30 in the morning using a flashlight, you will know how unfair I was. All I accomplished was to give him something to talk about, complain about, belittle me about with justice on his side, and my conscience bothering me. Some people are hard to like, but as a wise man once said, ‘love your enemies. It will drive them nuts.’
There was a 5th grade teacher named Miss Thompson who had a boy in her class named Teddy. He was unmotivated, unattractive, and she admitted to herself, hard to love. She said she loved everyone in her class but she knew deep down that was not true. There was Teddy, something about him. She found herself relishing marking down his poorly done work. She knew his evaluations: 1st grade, Teddy shows promise with his work and attitude, but poor home situation. 2nd grade, Teddy could do better. Mother seriously ill; he receives little help at home. 3rd grade, Teddy is a good boy but too serious. He is a slow learner. Mother died this year. 4th grade, Teddy is very slow but well-behaved. His father shows no interest.
At Christmas the students brought in presents for Miss Thompson. She was surprised to see one from Teddy wrapped in a paper bag. When opened out fell what she described as a gaudy rhinestone bracelet with stones missing and a half empty bottle of cheap perfume. The other kids laughed at it. Miss Thompson quietly put on the bracelet and some of the perfume. ‘Doesn’t it smell lovely’, she said without meaning it. After school Teddy came to her and said slowly, ‘Miss Thompson, Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother, and her bracelet looks pretty on you too. I’m glad you like my presents.’ After he left, deeply moved, Miss Thompson asked God to forgive her.
She was changed by his act of love. She became especially attentive to the slow learners like Teddy and he improved in his studies. Over the years he wrote her that he was graduating from high school, then college. Then he wrote her, ‘as of today I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that. And I am getting married too, and I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. Love, Teddy.’ And she did. Forgive and you will be forgiven. The measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.
The greatest example of living the clear precept of love is Our Lord Jesus Christ. Even when nailed to the cross, after being condemned and whipped, he prayed for those who brought him there, ‘father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ We are blessed in our diocese with the wisdom of Native American spirituality. I read about a prayer from the Sioux nation which provides perspective and guidance: ‘Oh Great Spirit, help me to never judge another until I have walked two weeks in his moccasins.’ (Castle)
“The measure with which you measure in return be measured back to you,’
May our measure be overflowing, one that brings respect and hope to all God’s children we are privileged to encounter.