Sunday, February 12, 2017

February 12, 2017
When faced with an evildoer — or an angry, snorting, 1,000-pound bull — most of us have a natural and understandable reaction: fight or flight.

It’s human. It’s instinctual. It’s a deeply ingrained mammalian response to danger. If you flee, you look for an escape route and run faster than you ever dreamed possible. But if you fight, you look for one thing, and one thing only; 
Blood. There will be blood.

You want to draw first blood and put down the evildoer. The goal is to save yourself, save your spouse, save your children, save your friends. If the danger is more emotional than physical, the response is still the same: You want the offender to bleed. The guy who broke your heart. The boss who fired you. The woman who betrayed you. Pow! First blood. Down they go.

This adrenaline-juiced dance with danger has been going on for centuries in the Latin world’s bullrings. Bullfighting is a spectacle in which a picador on a horse begins the fight by spearing the bull’s neck. Then bandilleros place three pairs of darts in the bull’s back. Finally the matador enters the ring and uses his cape to dance with the bull before he kills it with a sword.

Though I am sure there are those who would disagree with me, but I do not think it’s a sport. It’s a blood-soaked spectacle.

Fans say that “bullfighting is an intricate brush with death for both the bull and the bullfighter,” writes Edward Lewine in Hemispheres magazineIt’s a crucible that reveals the fearlessness of an animal and the bravery of a man.

Whether the bull gores the matador or the matador stabs the bull, one thing is certain: There will be blood.

Jesus reinvented the blood sports of his day when he looked at the tradition of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and issued a new set of guidelines: “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile” (Matthew 5:38-41). 

In a world accustomed to an eye for an eye, this is a whole new way of responding to attack. To the natural reactions of fight and flight, Jesus adds a third response: Love. There will be love.

This reaction can be every bit as effective as a flight to safety or a fight that draws blood, but it requires real bravery and commitment. Completely cut off from warm and fuzzy feelings, this love is grounded in a deep determination to respond to danger by acting in a Christ-like way. We’re challenged to be as courageous as matadors, standing without spear or sword in front of a snorting bull.

So what does Jesus say about responding to danger with love? He begins by insisting that love does not retaliate. According to New Testament scholar Eugene Boring, Jesus calls “for his disciples to reject absolutely the principle of retaliatory violence.” 

This response makes no sense unless you see it in the context of the kingdom of God. In this heavenly kingdom, enemies are embraced and turned into friends, not rejected and put to death. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also,” says Jesus — demonstrate that you are a follower of the Prince of Peace. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well” — show the world that you find your security in God, not in material possessions. “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile” — reveal your generosity by offering them more than they are demanding of you. “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” — make a point of helping others as the Lord has helped you.

Love doesn’t retaliate; instead, it seeks the welfare of the other person, even if that person is an evildoer. By responding with nonviolence, generosity and helpfulness, we stand a chance of leading someone closer to God’s kingdom.

Of course, such a Christ-like response is difficult. It takes courage and deep determination. In Uganda, Angelina Atyam’s daughter was abducted in 1996. Rebel troops took her and 29 other girls from a Catholic boarding school. Angelina met weekly with the parents of the other girls to pray for their daughters’ release.

“I was confused, bitter and very deep in my heart I was thinking, ‘How do I avenge this?’” says Angelina. “Yet we continued to pray and call upon the rebels to release our children, protect them, bring them home and make peace again.” 

One day, a priest was leading the group of parents in the Lord’s Prayer. When they got to the words “Forgive us our sins,” the parents suddenly stopped. They couldn’t say “as we forgive those who sin against us.” Realizing they were asking for the forgiveness of their sins yet were unable to forgive the rebels for stealing their children, the parents filed silently out of the church. It was simply too difficult. They couldn’t be Christ-like enough to forgive the rebels’ sins.

The parents went home and began to examine themselves. And something amazing happened: By the next meeting, they started to pray to forgive the rebels. They also began sharing their story of forgiveness with others and became leaders in a national movement to secure the release of abducted children. After seven years of captivity, Angelina and her daughter were reunited.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’” says Jesus. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Once again, Jesus gives us a response to adversity that is connected closely to the kingdom of God. He is challenging us to love our enemies not because they are wonderful people who deserve to be loved but because they are children of God — we are to love them because God loves them. After all, says Jesus, God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

Then Jesus raises the stakes a little higher, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” That’s an easy kind of love; even dishonest tax collectors do the same. “If you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?” Even unclean Gentiles greet their brothers and sisters. You can do better than that! 

Love your enemies, insists Jesus. Pray for those who persecute you. Stand up to the danger of an angry, snorting bull with no weapon but the Word of God. “Be perfect,” says Jesus, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This means to be complete in your love, not reserving it for neighbors, friends and family. It means to serve God wholeheartedly, focusing on the standards of God’s kingdom. Being perfect does not mean being without fault, in the sense of a psychological perfectionism that impedes healthy, adult human behavior. Rather it means being so oriented toward the values of God’s kingdom that all else is secondary. It is goal oriented and is meant to entice the greater righteousness.

This challenge is enormous because the fight-or-flight reaction is strong. We naturally want to run away or draw blood. But Jesus says no — try love. Try courageous, determined, committed love.

The Jerusalem spectacle wasn’t a bloodless bullfight but, in fact, a gory mess. Not aspiring to be a victorious matador, Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). He took our sins upon himself and died so we might experience forgiveness and life in God’s kingdom.

But that, of course, isn’t the end of the bloody bullfight. God raised Jesus from the dead, “highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that… every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 9-11).

When faced with danger, we try to imitate the behavior of our crucified and risen Lord. When tempted to retaliate, we remember that Jesus refused to retaliate. When filled with hatred for our enemies, we recall that Jesus loved his enemies, all the way to the cross.

In the bullfights of our lives, we have three choices: We can flee … fight … or love. 

Let’s do what Jesus did.
Let us pray.
Father God, we often find ourselves in situations where we need to make the choice of fight or flight. Depending on the situation, most of us, when we are honest with ourselves and You, would rather stay and fight. Help us to learn to be less prone to fight. Help us to see that it is better to have our ego bruised and merely walk away.
Since the time when You created mankind, humans have evolved, but some things remain the same. We have seemingly built within us the instinct that fight is always right. Jesus teaches us that this should not be so. We must learn to love not only our friends, but also those we classify as enemies. We must learn that when the shoe is on the other foot, as it were, we would rather the other would choose flight also. Most often times when we are hurt by others, it is unintentional or merely a consequence of a less than perfect situation. Help us to put away our ego and pride and learn from Jesus’ love of enemy. A few minutes of thinking rationally will help us to better respond. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor –St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA