Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103, R. The Lord is kind and merciful.; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Gospel—Matthew 5: 38-48
This Sunday’s readings give us the basic principles of how we, as Christians, are to relate with one another. One could call these as the practical tips on living out relationships in a Christian manner.
What most of us—myself included—find difficult is this passage: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,.” (Matthew 5: 44)
And then the final line: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 48)
The irony of these two passages in scripture is they really “simplify” Christian living. Taken together—the love for enemies, which is the universal love or agape, and the call to be perfect like the Father—they bring out the best in each other.
We cannot help but think of the term “kumbaya” when we come across “agape,” the love with which Jesus asks us to love our neighbor. “Kumbaya” was originally an African-American spiritual song in the early 20th century asking for God’s help amid oppression: “Oh Lord, won’t you come by here.”
In the 1960s, “Kumbaya” became the anthem of liberal activists in the United States, but eventually became trivialized as a naive, idealistic view of a complex world being reduced into a touchy-feely consensus, especially in the sociopolitical sphere.
Agape has the same spirit and “story,” starting as an ideal virtue upheld by Jesus: “Love your enemy,” “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Love one another. As I have loved you. . .”
It remains the ideal. But like kumbaya, many struggle to live it out in the concrete, day to day circumstances of our life in a way that it becomes transformative on a personal and social level.
Here we propose viewing agape from the lens of the second passage or verse, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The word used for “perfect” is the Greek “teleios,” from “telos” which means the goal, the aim or the purpose. Thus, the Greek idea or ideal of being perfect is when one lives one’s life faithful to one’s purpose.
Perfection of fidelity
It is not the perfection of being flawless and faultless, precise and exact, but the perfection of fidelity to one’s purpose.
“Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” is the perfection of fidelity to one’s purpose. God is love, a gracious and generous love, which is his essence or nature that we cannot think of him in any other way.
Our being perfect is about our being faithful to our mission, the end for which we came into this world, the main thing that God wants us to do to make this world better.
For our reflection, we propose that agape is a love that can best be lived in mission. Fidelity to mission is what develops into agape. We can love with a universal love as we live out our mission.
For example, the profession I know most is teaching. We have heard time and again that teaching is a vocation. It is a call to mission.
Teaching or education has always been associated with drawing out the talents, the best from a person. In my own journey through this vocation, it is helping young people discover their mission and discover Jesus in their life.
This evolved into mission as essentially becoming a loving person by loving them, the students, into excellence. This becomes possible when the environment of the school or community they are being educated or formed in is a caring environment that provides them the opportunities to be the best of who they can be.
It is this caring environment that becomes the community of agape. It is a caring community that loves its members into excellence, an excellence that is attained and lived by living a life of mission. With such a process, mission is always benevolent, caring and loving.
This is agape lived in or as mission.
“Love your enemy” is building caring communities that are inclusive, friend and foe alike are embraced with care, with the genuine hope that with such an environment they are all loved into excellence.
“Love [our] enemy” and we will be “perfect, just as [our] heavenly Father is perfect.” We are perfect in our fidelity to mission that is always associated with loving others into excellence and building caring communities.
If we can live this out in the day, we can build a better world, a world evolving into God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom of Love where all enjoy the fullness of life. —CONTRIBUTED