In Sunday’s gospel (Luke 6:27-38) Jesus offers his teaching and practice of human relations, advocating love of enemies and avoiding retaliation against those who harm us. Though this might seem to be saintly virtue, it is also good advice in the realm of human relationships, especially in contentious social and political contexts such as those many experience today.
Social scientists see the types of power we use in human relationships as corresponding to they type of involvement we can expect from others. If you try to coerce someone, you can expect that person to be alienated. If you base your relationships on reciprocity, you can expect that person to be always calculating on the basis of quid pro quo, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something: “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”
In today’s Gospel (Lk 6:27-38) Jesus invites us to be more virtuous (and effective!) in our most important relationships, emptying ourselves into our dealings with others, beyond retaliation or an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
What kind of power do I try to use in my relationships at home, at work, in my ministries and even in the public forum? Is it a coercive top-down type of authoritarian force, or do I invite full participation in important choices? Do I approach relationships with others on the basis of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” or do I try to stretch beyond coercion and retaliation to the fullness of the self-emptying love Jesus exemplifies for us all?