Jesus said to his disciples: "To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.
"Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you."
There exist so many explanations about what love is. In fact, love surely is one of the most multi-layered realities of human life. Today’s gospel puts the spotlight on an aspect which can be particularly insightful in order to expand one’s comprehension of love beyond the emotional cliché. Jesus exhorts us to love our enemies and to “give to everyone who asks of you.” What does that teach us about the nature of love?
The whole exhortation suggests that love is a process of unconditional giving. On a first glance, this could lead us to believe that love is a form of generosity or meekness. This is the way in which Friedrich Nietzsche understood Christian virtue: A meek indulgement, a yielding generosity, a willing submission. But I think that one needs to look deeper into Christ’s heart to discover the true nature of His love.
When Jesus offered the other cheek, when He allowed his enemies to take His cloak, in short, when He responded with love to hatred, He did not simply give away things, or rights, or power. In fact, love is not so much about giving things, but rather about giving oneself. Jesus gave Himself. Meek generosity can occur in a passive and resigned way; but to give oneself over to another, to put oneself at the mercy of another, to reach out with one’s heart and love the other unconditionally: this requires the greatest nobleness and truest greatness imaginable. Christian love is no weakness, it is strength.
Nietzsche advocated for a turn in values and a conscious affirmation of one’s instinct to prevail, of one’s vocation to succeed, of the will for power. He sensed (and painfully experienced) that self-giving love will leave you vulnerable. He feared that such an open flank would lead to the defeat of one’s vocation to thrive. Are we not familiar with this fear? This fear prompted Nietzsche to opt for a turn in values which he provocatorily termed anti-Christian.
Today’s gospel states the opposite. Jesus was not afraid to become vulnerable by giving Himself over. Nietzsche was right in assuming that a loving, open flank would attract vicious attacks; but he was wrong in thinking that the strikes of one’s enemy would leave one empty and defeated. For the laws of love are surprising: Emptying yourself fills you. Giving yourself enriches you. Loving makes you come alive.
How is that possible? On what basis do these laws of love opperate? They stem from God Himself. This is the core of Revelation: God is love. He, the very source of all that exists, “happens to be” good, and kind, and generous. If you venture to love and give freely, “you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” God, the Most High, is the guarantee for the power of love. This is why Jesus can point us into the direction of His kind of love while promising that, if we give, gifts will be given to us, “a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you."