Readings: Lv 19:1-2,17-18; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48
This Sunday in the Gospel Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mountain. The Gospel message challenges us to do the impossible by turning the other cheek by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. In other words, we are called to use the secret weapon of kindness to disarm the enemy. In the First Reading, the Lord asks Moses to tell the people: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” The instruction then goes on to tell the people some practical ways of being holy: avoiding hatred and not taking revenge. All that is summed up in the Levitical Law as, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is not just a law, but a relationship that is grounded on God’s love for all without exception. This understanding leads us to imitate our God; it leads us to be holy, just as our God is holy; it leads us to be “kind and merciful” just as “The Lord is kind and merciful,” the response to Psalm 103 used in the readings this Sunday.
Once again like last Sunday in the Gospel Jesus teaches about forgiveness, challenging us further to do the impossible by going beyond the law of love and revenge. In a world so marked by a culture of violence and revenge, we are called to be compassionate and forgiving. As followers of Christ, we must never revenge. Instead, Jesus tells us, “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” Let me try to unpack this Gospel text in order to help understand what Jesus means by turning the other cheek. At the time of Jesus in Palestine, the law forbad anyone in authority from striking anybody with the back of the right hand, or with the left hand. Therefore, if you turned the other cheek, the enemy would first be surprised and stop to think! That technique of Jesus may be called disarming the enemy because it is a game changer. It transforms behavior and defuses a situation that would have otherwise ended up in violence or revenge. I once heard the story of a person who broke into a home on one winter night. The owner, a woman who lived alone, woke up on hearing some noise in her living room. On opening her bedroom door, she saw a man standing there and was so frightened. She stood at the door in panic, not knowing what to do next. The man had opened one of the back windows to get in. For a long time, it was tense as they remained in silence. Suddenly, she broke the silence and asked him, what time is it? He responded as he looked at his watch. Only then did the man say how sorry he was to have broken into her home. He was homeless; he was hungry. She then gave him some food and prepared the cough in the living room for him to sleep. With her kindness, she had disarmed the man. The example of turning the other cheek may seem by world standards to be weakness or even as taking a risk, but that is what gives us a unique identify when we react to the enemy in a non-violent way rather than violently. That is what is unusual and different from a world culture of violence. Our apparent weakness and cowardice is a powerful witness and leads to holiness. That is why Jesus concludes the passage with, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) In a world so marked by a culture of violence and revenge, we are called to be compassionate and forgiving. 2) Jesus challenges us further to be transforming agents in this violent world by disarming the enemy, rather than by revenge. 3) Our compassion and apparent weakness before the enemy is a powerful witness and leads to holiness.
©2017 John S. Mbinda