Growing up with six siblings, three younger and three older, I can admit I did not have the same relationship with all of them. Although close family and friends might point out how much we may have been alike, how we spoke, how we behaved, our preferences in matters of taste—food, music, friends, they weren’t always aware of the finer distinctions of personality between us. Now that may be because it was less work to see and interact with us as a group. But we had no trouble telling ourselves apart. So we all knew we were clearly our own distinct person. Of course we had our scuffles and skirmishes growing up, but we are older and wiser now. There aren’t any lingering grudges from childhood. So it’s safe to say we get along fine. We didn’t always. But on the surface, there doesn’t seem to be any major divisive issues between us, not religion, not politics, not lifestyle. Or if there are, we seem to know what is and what isn’t worth getting worked up about. We respect each other’s privacy. We don’t give in to gossip. And now that our parents have grandchildren and a first great-grandchild, we are no longer shy about expressing our affection for each other.
Every family has its own unique dynamic. So how our parents treat each other, how they raise us, and how we get along with our siblings will surely have an impact on who we become. It is in that setting of family life where we learn how to look at the world and interpret the meaning and impact of our experience, how we see and interact with our neighbor, how we see and interact with God. It is in that setting of family life where we learn the basics of human interaction, who to trust and who to keep at arm’s length, who is reliable, authentic, loyal and who is erratic, dishonest, self-serving. So when we come across people whose values differ from our own, we can try to grasp who and what life experiences shaped them. We are not responsible for other people’s choices, thinking, words, or actions. We are only responsible for our own. We can try to convince them of what we know and believe, as sincerely and passionately as we know how. But that is all we can do, short of depriving them of their freedom and imposing our will upon them. That is all anyone can do.
When God spoke to Moses what he wanted the people of Israel to know of his will, God tried to impart to them his vision of community life. It seems reasonable that God would expect them to try to live together in peace and harmony, that they bear no hatred against anyone, that they avoid intentional harm, vengeance, or holding grudges against each other. God saw them as descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whom he loved. God may have regarded them as a group although they were all separate and distinct individuals. But they were also family to each other, which they didn’t always remember. And even if there are certain things we don’t think we need to explain to our own families about how we should treat one another, we should know that God knew he had to spell some of these things out. Human nature is not much different now from what God had to contend with in the days of Moses. So it is no surprise some of us need to be reminded now and again in case we forget.
It appears St. Paul is building on Moses’ instruction by reminding the church in Corinth that God’s Spirit dwells in each of us, making us temples of God. We might not regard all temples of God the same. Some are more simple by our taste, some more rustic, some more elaborate, some more visually impressive. We may have a preference for a certain architectural style, for specific art or music or the sort of people that gather there or the way they worship, but it is the presence of God’s Spirit dwelling there that demands an appropriate response from us. So when we interact with our neighbor, we cannot bow to inconsequential external factors or our personal preferences, and disregard the truth of their dignity and worth that comes from God alone.
So when Jesus instructs us to love our enemies, he is not asking of us something new. Moses tried to teach Israel the same as God instructed him. The difference might only be in the distance in time they were from their common ancestors. They were still family to each other. And even if there are certain things we don’t think we need to explain to our own families about how we should treat one another, we should know that God knew he had to spell some of these things out.
When we make the claim that we are the family of God, we need to remember that we are claiming common ancestors, first among them God himself. Through the prophets of old and more recently through his Son Jesus, God has made known his expectations of his family, of those who claim him and everything he stands for, including certain specific and unambiguous ways of thinking, speaking, and behaving. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we need to be reminded, frequently, patiently, compassionately. We might still be able to imagine that look on grandma’s face of loving patience tinged with worry and exhaustion to perhaps make us reconsider that last decision, that way of thinking, that choice of words, that questionable behavior. If you’ve already decided what I’m saying doesn’t apply to you because your grandma would never understand or interfere in your life, it’s just a metaphor. Now imagine that look of loving patience tinged with worry and exhaustion on the face of God directed right at you. No, not at your annoying brother or your infuriating sister, not at the president or the people who want his job, not the governor, not Congress or the state legislators, not the pope or the bishop or your pastor. You! Imagine God looking at you with loving patience tinged with worry and exhaustion. We are not responsible for other people’s choices, thinking, words, or actions. We are only responsible for our own. We can try to convince them of what we know and believe, as sincerely and passionately as we know how, because we love them and do not wish for them to be in error, lost, or lead others astray. If we are truly God’s family, perhaps we can be more truly concerned for their spiritual good, and for all God’s children.
“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your sisters and brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?” If we truly are who we claim to be—God’s own family, sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ, temples of God’s Holy Spirit, we cannot dismiss our responsibility to seek the good of our neighbor, even those with whom we are at odds. We are not responsible for their choices, their thinking, their words, or their actions. We are only responsible for our own. We must do what we can to help them patiently and lovingly. That’s what it means to be family.
Rolo B Castillo © 2020