7th Sunday of the Year (a) 2017
There are times when the gospel ideals seem unreachable; to be perfect as God is perfect, ‘turning the other cheek’ and what about ‘loving your enemies.’ Sometimes it’s difficult to love your friends never mind your enemies. But there is another challenge in today’s reading that I would like to focus on: ‘You must love your neighbour as yourself.’ On face value it seem quite simple and attainable, but is it?.
‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Of course, the presumption is that we love ourselves. But do we? In my experience as a priest for 30 plus years there are too many people who not only don’t love themselves but don’t even like themselves. I am not just speaking about people who self-harm or abuse themselves in one way or another but a far larger number of just ordinary people, and many of these are Catholics.
And so I ask the question: why don’t some people like themselves? There are inevitably many reasons but I offer one from my own experience: because they see no good in themselves. When they look at themselves in the mirror, all they see is their selfishness, pride, greed, anger, impatience, jealousy; just to list some of my own! They don’t see any good. We tend to see the worst in ourselves, whereas others often see us in a much better light. God in particular sees us in a much much better light. He really does see the good in us, and so much so that when he looks at us he smiles. It’s not that he doesn’t see all our faults and failings. He does, but he overlooks them, at least He doesn’t focus on them, He sees our potential; He sees what we can become.
God smiles on us because he loves us; in spite of all our faults and failings. This is a truth that too many people find hard to believe: that God loves us, and furthermore, that we are lovable. On our journey through life God is helping us to discover this truth; but it takes a long time. Sometimes, when our life is a mess, when things go wrong, when we feel bad about ourselves it’s so hard to believe that anyone can love us, never mind God. And yet, all this apparent mess and darkness is part of God’s plan for us. Not that he wants us to mess up, but He respects our gift of freedom; even to be free to mess up.
God has a plan for each and every one of us. We may not see it but it does exist. What seems to be a mess to us is all part of a much bigger, better, more beautiful plan. I like to use the image of a carpet. If you look underneath a woven carpet all you see is a colourless jumble of threads, with bits hanging out here and there. And this is often the way we see our lives. But turn that same carpet over and you see something very different: now you see a neat pattern and bright colours; that is how God sees our life. See how very different it is.
What we have to do is trust in God; that he is guiding us and leading us to himself. As we look back over the years we now recognise the hand of God, the master weaver, in our past. When we know we are loved by God, then we begin to love ourselves; and as God has forgiven us for the things we did wrong, so we forgive ourselves. When you love yourself then you also can begin to love not only your neighbour but also your enemies.