I once heard a Japanese Zen Master talk about Jesus. "He must have been a deeply enlightened man," he said. "No one could have said 'Love your enemy as yourself; still less could anyone have said, 'If your enemy strikes you on the right cheek, offer the left as well', unless he was a deeply enlightened man. He saw that when your enemy strikes you, it is really the same as your striking yourself - friend, enemy, left cheek, right cheek, you, the other: no difference!" I have never forgotten these words; I can still hear the accent in which they were spoken. And they were spoken not by a Christian but by a Buddhist. Sometimes others see the depth of our religion better than we do.
     If your love is a calculation, he seems to say, it is not love at all; if you are measuring it out, it is not really worth giving, because it will create guilt and obligation and dependency; if there is ego in it, it is diseased and you had better keep it yourself....
     Jesus asks us to do the impossible! He asks us to live like God. We are not to live by mere calculation and organisation. Love is a kind of madness; it goes beyond logic. If it were perfectly sensible it would be given only to those who deserved it. But like God's grace it flows out freely on good and bad alike.
     Up to a few years ago, there were countless religious books telling us to "cultivate this and that virtue and eliminate vices and imperfections." Suddenly it is a language that seems strangely dated; it looks now like a kind of gardening for introspective souls. We have lived and changed a lot in the Church in the last ten years! The remedies called for now are much more drastic, and somehow out of our hands: self-improvement won't do; we are at the mercy of God. When we emerge from this crucible we will be a deeply humble, even humiliated, Church. We may know more then about compassion, about powerlessness, about the madness of love, about seeking the lost rather than defending the secure: in a word, we may know more about spirituality than about ideology. The laity will have come into its own and they will bring a new vitality and practicality to the Church. But these are prayers, not predictions. Ultimately we are at the mercy of God, and that is the right place to be.     Yes perhaps we have been far too reasonable! The cross is madness. Loving your enemies is madness. Our religion is full of madness, and we make it a religion of reasonableness! "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" is perfectly reasonable and logical; it is like arithmetic! But the very word 'reasonable' is ambiguous. It can mean 'according to reason' (like arithmetic), or it can be 'just so-so' (as when you say something is 'reasonably good'). We are capable of both meanings, and very capable of confusing them! "The language of the cross may be illogical to those who are not on the way to salvation, but those of us who are on the way see it as God's power to save.... God wanted to save those who have faith, through the foolishness of the message that we preach," wrote St Paul (1 Cor 1:18). The madness of God! It has been a major theme in the writings of the saints. St Catherine of Siena wrote in the 14th century (when they knew a degree of confusion and disturbance that makes our century look almost sure of itself!): "You [God], deep well of love, it seems you are so madly in love with your creatures that you could not live without us!"

Donagh O'Shea

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.