Learning to Love Those Who Harm Us

Today’s reflection is by Bondings 2.0 contributor Yunuen Trujillo, whose brief bio can be found by clicking here.

Today’s liturgical readings for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found here.

“We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life.” Edwin Markham, U.S. Poet

Today’s gospel brings us perhaps the simplest yet one of the most challenging teachings “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. The golden rule, as is commonly known, is the most culturally universal ethical tenet in human history, and every major religion features some variation of it. As simple and universally accepted as this rule is, it is one of the hardest principles to follow.

In today’s reading, the golden rule is delivered to us amidst a series of corollaries to it. Jesus tells us that instead of looking for retribution after someone wrongs us, we should forgive our enemies, not seek vengeance, and do good to those who hate us. He also tells us that, whenever a person strikes us in one cheek, we should offer the other cheek.

Wait, what?

LGBTQ Catholics, are very familiar with injustice and we’ve often had to cleanse ourselves from internalized self-hate. For us, letting others hurt us without seeking retribution or justice often seems like a move against our own survival. The fact that these biblical verses have been used in the past by some religious pundits to quiet our valid calls for justice doesn’t help either. In order to understand and commit this teaching to life, we cannot isolate it from the entire Gospel, things must be understood in context.

First of all, Jesus’ whole life, ministry, and even death and resurrection were centered on the radical love of, and in standing with, the poor and vulnerable —Jesus himself was poor and vulnerable. Over and over again, Jesus breaks the social and religious rules of his time to stand with those who were mistreated and judged. Jesus befriends the marginalized, stands with the marginalized, heals the marginalized, puts the marginalized in positions of leadership, and preaches that the Kingdom of God is not full of the powerful, but with those who have suffered injustice. Today, as it was yesterday, Jesus stands with us and reminds us we are beloved Children of God, full human beings who deserve to live a life with dignity.

Secondly, Jesus recognizes that there is injustice and that, as much as we might try to get earthly retribution, a good deal of injustice goes unpunished by a society that still hasn’t ‘figured it out’ or that is outright corrupt. Yet, no matter what the powerful do to hurt, divine justice will always favor those who have done no harm; whether on this realm or the next.

Third (and this is a VERY important part), when Jesus tells us that we must “do unto others as we would have them do unto us” and that we must love our neighbor, he doesn’t say we must love our neighbor more than ourselves. Rather, he says we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We cannot give that which we do not have for ourselves.

Loving ourselves often requires setting healthy boundaries with those who have hurt us — even family members or members of our community. The key is to create healthy boundaries for the present and the future, while letting go of the resentment and hate that are the result of the past. Nobody carries the load of one’s resentment and hate but ourselves. Letting go and eventually initiating a process of forgiveness is a radical act of self-love.

In addition to that focus on love of self, Jesus asks us to go beyond simple “letting go” and asks us to learn to love and have compassion towards the other, especially those who have harmed us. Those who caused harm have often been harmed themselves by another, or are constantly harming themselves, falling victims of their own bitterness. Those who are not hospitable to their own wounds cannot bear to see the wound of another — how terrible it must be to live a life like that.

Our heart must be centered in love, recognizing that whatever feeling and intention we harbor in our heart towards others will stay in our heart and only come back to us. At the same time, we must be humble and remember that we are not perfect either and, unless we process our own hurt, we might be equally bitter toward others. Life takes a lot of turns and one day we may find ourselves being the ones causing harm; we would then want others to have compassion towards us, until we find ourselves again.

Love is the only answer; love that is rooted, love that is balanced, love that goes beyond our human limits and reasoning, radical love. There is no other answer.

Yunuen Trujillo, February 20, 2022

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