Archimandrite Nikanor Karayannis
Christ stands us before a mirror today so that can see our weakness and monitor our condition. ‘As you wish people to do to you, do so to them’. In other words, do as you would be done by. Such an attitude is essentially the first decisive step we need to take if we’re to progress in the Christian life. This stance isn’t merely a rule of external good behavior and formal comportment; it isn’t simply a framework to ensure that our interpersonal relationships are built on reciprocity and justice. The reciprocity of the golden rule (‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you’) clearly implies justice, but is not restricted to it. This gives rise to the question here: how, in these words of Christ, does the command of love, which extends to the point of loving your enemies, co-exist with justice?
The interaction between love and justice doesn’t remove the tension between them. Without justice, human relationships become harsh and callous; without love, they become stifling and brutal. Love doesn’t abolish justice, nor is it a substitute for it. But it does keep it on the right path and shows the direction for it to follow. It’s the abiding power which has its root in God. So when we ask for goodness, understanding and love from others, this means that we see them in the depth of their existence. This is precisely where it’s evident that each of us is a living image of God, and that, no matter how tarnished and sullied we are, we’re still of supreme worth. In this way, we’re brought naturally and gently to love.
Love for your enemies.
For us the faithful, love is the fulfilment of the law, the quintessence of the Christian faith and life, the core of the Christian revelation. Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, it’s the treasury and treasure of our faith. It’s love which is directed towards and embraces every other person without exception. When we love only those who love us; when we do good only to those who do good to us; when we assist only those who assist us, then our love is counterfeit, fraudulent and selfish. It’s subject to the everyday game of give and take- I scratch your back, you scratch mine- and the relationships which are forged within this context are based on a network of mutual favors. But such behavior is reprehensible in terms of Christ’s words because it’s motivated by self-interested calculation. This means that the measure with which we weigh everything around us and according to which we act is our self, and then we sink into isolation and loneliness.
Other people are, or become, our enemies: we deny them, we look down on them, we avoid them and sometimes we turn on them and clash with them with incredible ferocity. Yet those standing before us aren’t our hell; they’re our paradise. They become our hell when we don’t become their paradise. If egotism is the destruction of the image of God within us, then turning towards other people is what destroys egotism and restores our health before God. The worse and more despicable others appear to be, the more that opening our heart to them cures our own sickness.
A learned Metropolitan writes: ‘No form of love is freer and no freedom is identified so closely to love than that for one’s enemies (…) love that doesn’t expect any return (…) is real grace, that is freedom (…). It’s only when love comes together with freedom that we have healing’.
My dear brothers and sisters, Saint John Chrysostom comments on today’s Gospel reading saying: ‘For he did not say “Do not hate”, but “Love”’. He goes on to state that we need to be careful in our progress towards higher things. When we’re badly treated, we shouldn’t retaliate. Nor should we hate the people who injured us; instead we should love them. Even more: we should do good to them and entreat God on their behalf. On this spiritual ladder we have much labor and a great struggle before us, but our conscience won’t let us rest until we’ve experienced love as a gift and miracle from God.