Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, "Thus says the Lord: Have you killed, and also taken possession?" You shall say to him, "Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood."
Ahab said to Elijah, "Have you found me, O my enemy?" He answered, "I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel; and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin. Also concerning Jezebel the Lord said, "The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel." Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat; and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the air shall eat." (Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel. He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.
When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: "Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son's days I will bring the disaster on his house."
Jesus said to his disciples,"You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy." 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; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Whenever we hear the gospel command to love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors, we think of Jesus' own heroic example, praying for his executioners, as he hung on the cross (Luke 22:34). Paul, today, also pleads for generosity as he tells the church at Corinth about the evident kindness of the churches of Macedonia. He was now collecting alms from the Corinthians for the church at Jerusalem, coming to the aid of a church that had persecuted him, blocked his apostolic work for the gentiles and even questioned his right to be an apostle.
These Scriptures focus on the spirit of forgiveness. We are asked to swallow our pride and turn away from our any instinctively harsh judgment of others. If even King Ahab repented, it shows how others can change. No matter how justified our anger or how eloquent our condemnation, like the prophet Elijah we too must look to the Lord God and seek to be forgiving and thus perfect as our Father is perfect.
Jesus called on people not to take vengeance on the enemy. In today's gospel, Jesus goes further and calls on us to love the enemy. As one commentator on this passage puts it, "Who else is left to love, after one has loved the enemy?" The love Jesus speaks of is not just a feeling but finds expression in active service. We might think of the parable of the good Samaritan, in which the Samaritan renders loving service to the injured Jew, who would have been regarded by the Samaritan as an enemy. Such a love of the enemy will also find expression in prayer for the enemy, as when Jesus asked his Father to forgive those who were responsible for his crucifixion.
The natural, human tendency is to focus our love on those for whom we have strong feelings of warmth and affection. This is natural, but according to today's gospel, it is not exceptional. Jesus calls on us to stretch beyond those our love would naturally embrace. This is one of the gospel texts that does indeed stretch us. Jesus is calling on us to reveal, by our way of relating to others, the God who in love causes the sun to rise on bad people as well as good, and the rain to fall on honest and dishonest alike. This way of life that Jesus calls us towards is only possible in the power of the Holy Spirit who lives among us and within us.