by Father Alonzo Cox
When I was growing up, many of my friends would tell me all the time that being a Christian is easy. Because I went to public school, many of my classmates were intrigued by the fact that my family and I were practicing Catholics. My friends didn’t understand why I took my faith so seriously, especially when I was a teenager.
I remember having a conversation with one friend who identified himself as a Christian and who said to me very bluntly, “Being a Christian is easy — just do good, avoid evil and follow the commandments. There’s no need to do anything else.”
Being 16 years old at the time, I should have dismissed his statement and moved on with my day, but I really thought about what he said.
I actually continue to ponder his statement all these years later. What I find fascinating is that many people tend to believe that! To be a follower of Christ is simply to do good deeds, avoid the bad and follow the commandments from beginning to end. There is so much more to being a follower of Christ than that, and it’s not always easy to do so.
Jesus is reminding us in today’s Gospel that to truly be one of his followers, we must radically change and transform our lives. The Lord is challenging us today to turn our check when one strikes us. He’s challenging us to give the shirt off our back to those who go to battle with us.
Then there is the ultimate challenge that Jesus has given to us: Love your enemies.
I’ve always wondered how any human being can possibly do that? How can we love someone who has clearly made it known to us that they are an enemy? How can any of us love someone who has openly persecuted us?
The answer of course is that it’s not normal. To be a follower of Christ is not to adhere to what society believes to be “normal,” but in essence to be Christ-like. St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading that the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.
We are called to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. To truly love our enemies is to respond with a loving action, which is prayer.
The greatest action we can do for one another is to lift each other in prayer. Imagine what this world would be like if we lifted each other in prayer and not tear each other down. That is what it means to be a Christian. Going beyond what our society envisions the “normal” to be.
Jesus is telling us that it takes much more than doing good, avoiding evil and following the commandments to be his disciple. To follow him, we must allow our lives to conform to his. We must be open to changing our lifestyles and to be open to what the Lord is asking of us.
Being a Christian is not easy, but we must try each day to allow Christ to be the center and source of our lives as he leads us to the eternal kingdom of heaven.
Readings for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18
Psalm 103: 1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
1 Corinthians 3: 16-23
Matthew 5: 38-48
Father Cox is the pastor of St. Martin de Porres parish, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and diocesan coordinator of ministry to African-American Catholics.