Gospel Reflection Feb 23 – Sr. Teresa
Sunday, February 23
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5: 38 – 48
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand over your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
These past few weeks we have been hearing passages from the Sermon on the Mount and they may have made us uncomfortable and called us to do a little soul-searching. Jesus used a typical rabbinical practice of presenting another opinion. He begins with, “You have heard that it was said….” then he gives an alternate way of thinking, acting and believing, that is not easy to hear or accept. “You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This was a law called lex talionis. This law was given to scale back the types of extreme retaliation and revenge that existed. In its day, it was a compassionate teaching against inordinate revenge on a mass scale. “Just an eye for an eye. Just a tooth for a tooth,” we might have said the punishment should match the crime.
This passage seems to be out of sync with the world in which we are living. “Hit me – I hit you back.” “Get them before they get us!” “Strike them before they strike us.” Except none of that is in sync with the teachings and life of Jesus. None of that is in accord with this Gospel passage today. “You have heard it said…” then Jesus comes in with a little word, a simple conjunction and everything changes. He says “BUT – I say to you.”
Jesus tells us not to offer resistance or take revenge — to turn the other cheek, to lend what we have, to go even further than people ask us to go with them. He seems to invite us to be passive and stupid.
He seems to invite us to be meek, humble, and naïve. What Jesus is demanding is tough.
I like to think of myself as a non-violent person. I don’t know that I am all the time. When I use this gospel passage as a backdrop to look at my life, I wonder if I am as non-violent as I like to think I am. Am I non-violent in the ways I respond or treat others?
I can name the ways in my own life where I am resistant to the reading today. I can also look at my own life and identify the times in my life when I have been the victim of violence. There is also the institutional violence of which I am sometimes a part both in society and in the church because of complacency, complicity or indifference.
What about this reading? Is Jesus telling us to just ignore violence and injustice, or ignore the violence done to us or the violence done to others or the violence done to the planet or the violence done to God? To be non-violent is not to be blind, it is just the opposite — to be non-violent is to be acutely aware of the violence, the injustice, the sin around us but to respond to these in ways that will bring about change. Respond to violence and injustice in ways that will bring peace and restore harmony.
Jesus is saying “you have heard it said, to return violence with violence but I say to you love your enemies do good to those who persecute you.” I think he is saying to recognize that we are brother and sister to each other and cultivate an attitude of peace and love for our brothers and sisters. History teaches us that a cycle of violence for violence can continue for thousands of years and until one side decides not to respond with violence that cycle will not end.
Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you … these words today are so hard to hear and so hard to do … sometimes it is hard enough to just keep on loving the people we love but Jesus insists that we love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. Pray for our enemies? Yes, it is the bedrock of discipleship. It is core to being a follower of Jesus. Jesus does not make this a matter for negotiation or half-hearted acceptance. He is very clear on how we are to treat each other.
An old rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended, and day had begun. “Could it be,” asked one student, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?” “No,” answered the rabbi. Another asked, “Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?” “No,” responded the rabbi. “Then when is it? When will we know that the night has ended, and the day has begun.?” The old rabbi responded, “It is when you can look on the face of any woman or man, any boy or girl and see your sister or brother. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night.”
Perhaps our night will end when we will come to recognize that those who are the victims and perpetrators of what is called the war on terrorism, are seen as our brothers and sisters.
Perhaps our night will end when we draw the circle wider so that it will include those who have shut us out and those whom we have shut out.
Perhaps our night will end when we dare not give in to the sirens of cowardice and greed and hate and fear. When we strive to heal wounds not create new ones. When we strive to lift people up and not put them down. When we try to create beauty where there is ugliness, peace where there is hostility, freedom where there is oppression, acceptance where there is rejection, new life where there seem to be only dead ends. When there is no “me and mine” but only “we and ours.” When there is no “us and them” but only brothers and sisters.
Perhaps our night will end when we not only pray for our enemies, but we begin to love them as our brother or our sister.
Perhaps our night will end when we take the words of Jesus and live them.
For we are not defined by Lex Talionis – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We have been defined by Jesus … and we have been anointed and appointed chosen and set apart to bring that spirit to others and it is the spirit of non-violence and non-retaliation. It is the spirit that lives in us because God lives in us.
-Sr. Teresa Tuite, OP