A few nights ago I was watching a show on TV about the outbreak of World War I. As soon as the spark came along, everybody from the top to the bottom of society jumped on the war bandwagon. Although the vast majority would have been nominally Christian, the teachings and witness of Jesus life had no impact on the decision to go to war – apart from a few scattered conscientious objectors here and there. It was as if Jesus had wasted his breath in giving us the Sermon on the Mount in the first place.
The reason why this is a serious problem is that Jesus gave his followers a radically different way to live: You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? Matt 5:43-46.
Today we celebrate the martyrdom of St Stephen who died like Christ forgiving his enemies. His last word was ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’ which mirrored Jesus’ last word ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Today’s opening prayer for Mass and concluding prayer for the Divine Office asks that we have grace to live in a like manner: Give us grace, Lord, to practise what we worship.Teach us to love our enemies as we keep the feast of Saint Stephen, who prayed even for the men who stoned him to death.
The reason why Jesus preached and lived a non-violent love of friends and enemies is that central to his redemptive death was responding to evil with goodness and love. In baptism we were immersed into this redemptive death. Thus we too should always respond to evil with Christ-like goodness and love. The world puts before us the goodness and love of all sorts of other heroes but for a Christian, it is only Christ-like goodness and love that matters and which saves us ultimately from sin and death.