We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints, and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had alrady made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you.
Now as you excel in everything, in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you, so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
I will praise the Lord all my days,
make music to my God while I live. (R./)
He is happy who is helped by Jacob's God,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who alone made heaven and earth,
the seas and all they contain. (R./)
It is he who keeps faith for ever,
who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry,
the Lord, who sets prisoners free. (R./)
It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind,
who raises up those who are bowed down,
the Lord, who protects the stranger
and upholds the widow and orphan. (R./)
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.
The ideal of loving our enemies and even praying for persecutors seems remote and unreal, until we remember Jesus’ own heroic example, praying for his executioners, as he was dyingon the cross (Luke 22:34). St Paul echoes this self-giving love when telling his Christians in Corinth about the outstanding generosity shown by the churches of Macedonia. He was on a goodwill campaign, with the aim of collecting alms from the better-off Christians in Greece, to help the struggling church at Jerusalem. In this he was trying to be reconciled with the conservatives in Jerusalem, who had rejected him, blocked his apostolic work for the gentiles and even questioned his right to call himself a Christian.
Both readings put a high value on forgiveness and reconciliation. We are advised to swallow our pride and turn away from too harsh a judgment of others. If we can repent, it shows how others can change. No matter how justified our anger or how eloquent our condemnation, we need to be forgiving and grow to be perfect as our Father is perfect.
It's not enough for us not to take revenge. Jesus goes further and requires us to love our enemies. It is a very extreme demand, for who else is left to love, after one has loved the enemy? Love like this is not just a feeling but a basic attitude of mind and will, to be expressed in acts of kindness. We might think of the parable of the good Samaritan, where this foreigner gives loving service to a badly injured Jew on the roadside. By long established convention, Jews would have been regarded by most Samaritans as enemies, to be hated and avoided.
The unconditional love proposed by Jesus would lead us to actually pray for our enemy, as when Jesus prayed forgiveness for those who were responsible for his crucifixion. The human tendency is to limit our goodwill to those for whom we have feelings of warmth and affection. This is natural love, and its value is clear to everyone. But it is not exceptional; and Jesus wants his friends to stretch their love beyond those whom they would naturally embrace. This is a challenge that stretches us. We are meant to reveal, when relating to others, the God whose love reaches out to all. He causes the sun to rise on bad people as well as good, and the rain to fall on honest and dishonest alike. This ideal is only possible in the power of the Holy Spirit who lives among us and within us.