ROME — Jesus’s call for Christians to respond to hostility with love requires a strength that comes from above and not from within, Pope Francis said.
While many are “accustomed to revenge,” Christians are called to follow Jesus’ example of turning the other cheek, the pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square Feb. 20 for his Sunday Angelus address.
“This is what Christians do,” he said. But “how sad it is, when people and populations proud to be Christians see others as enemies and think to wage war against each other! It is very sad.”
The pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. Luke, in which Christ tells his disciples, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Jesus seems like he is “asking the impossible” or “even unjust things of us,” the pope said. But Christ, who was slapped by a guard when interrogated by the high priest, showed that “turning the other cheek does not mean suffering in silence or giving in to injustice.”
Jesus responds to the guard’s action against him “without anger, without violence” but instead with kindness, the pope said.
“Turning the other cheek means defeating evil with the goodness that opens up a breach in the heart of the enemy, unmasking the absurdity of his hatred,” he said. “And this attitude, this turning the other cheek, is dictated not by calculation or by hatred, but by love.”
Pope Francis said that while loving one’s enemies would be impossible “if it depended only on us,” Christians should be mindful that “when the Lord asks for something, he wishes to give it.”
“The Lord never asks for something he has not already given us first. When he tells me to love my enemies, he wants to give me the capacity to do so. Without that ability, we would not be capable, but he tells you to ‘love your enemy’ and gives you the capacity to love,” the pope said.