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.
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 calls on his followers not to take vengeance on the enemy. In today's gospel, he 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 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.