LEV 19:1-2, 17-18 S 1 COR 3:16-23 MT 5:38-48
One day a truck driver stopped at a restaurant for dinner and ordered a steak. Before he could eat it, in walked a motorcycle gang, with dirty leather jackets and long, unkempt hair. They took the man’s steak, cut it into six pieces, and ate it. The driver said nothing. He simply paid the bill and walked out. One of the gang members said, “That man couldn’t talk. He didn’t say a word.” Another one said, “He couldn’t fight, either; he didn’t lift a hand.” A waiter added, “I would say that he couldn’t drive either. On his way out of the parking lot, he ran over six motorcycles crushing all of them.” Something in us loves that story, because we like retaliation. But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus prescribes forgiving love as the Christian trump card.
An 8 year-old boy from Nashville, Tennessee makes this contribution: “Dear Pastor, I know God wants us to love everybody, but He surely never met my sister.” Sincerely, Arnold.
Today’s readings explain the basis of Jewish and Christian morality, the holiness of the loving, merciful and compassionate One God. God’s chosen people were, and are, expected to be holy people sharing God’s holiness by embodying His love, mercy and forgiveness. Hence the first reading from the book of Leviticus gives the holiness code: “Be holy, for I the Lord, your God, am holy.” It also gives us the way to share God’s holiness: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The responsorial psalm challenges us to be like our God, kind, merciful and forgiving.
In the second reading St. Paul gives us an additional reason to be holy. We are to keep our bodies holy because we are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit lives in us.
In the gospel passages taken from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus condemns even the mild form of the “Law of the Talion,” the tribal law of retaliation. Instead of the restricted retaliation allowed by Moses, Jesus gives his new law of love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation and no retaliation. A suicide bomber blows up a crowded bus in Israel. Israel responds by destroying an entire Palestinian village. The Palestinians react with more suicide bombers. Who is going to break the cycle of hate? A Chinese Proverb puts it succinctly, “Whoever pursues revenge should dig two graves; one for the avenged and one for himself.”
For Jesus, retaliation, or even limited vengeance, has no place in the Christian life, although graceful acceptance of an offense requires great strength, discipline of character as well as strengthening by God’s grace. He commands that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us to prove that we are children of a merciful heavenly Father. The meaning of “turn the other cheek” is “Don’t return insult for insult.” The message of Jesus is, “Don’t retaliate.” Instead, we are to win over the aggressor with tough, wise love, so that we may win people to Christ and transform human society into the Kingdom of God.
The second part of today’s gospel passage is the central part of the Sermon on the Mount. It presents the Christian ethic of personal relationship: love one’s neighbors and forgive one’s enemies. It tells us that what makes Christians different is the grace with which they treat others with loving kindness and mercy, even if they don’t deserve it. We have to love our enemies with agape love, not because our enemies deserve our love, but because Jesus loves them so much that he died for them.
Throughout this week let us spend some time reflection on the teaching of Jesus. Jesus’ demands that we should forgive, pardon and be generous whether or not our offenders deserve it, and even if we are not loved in return. He also tells us to pray for those who willfully cause us suffering, hardship and unhappiness.
We are to try to be perfect, to be like God: We become perfect when we fulfill God’s purpose in creating us, i.e., when we become Godlike by cooperating with His grace. We become perfect when we try to love as God loves, to forgive as God forgives and to show unconditional good will and universal benevolence as God does.