The Gospel text today continues our review of the teaching of Jesus given in what is called the Sermon on the Mount.
It seems all very straightforward and clear, even if it is at times a very difficult teaching. We are very familiar with the concepts Jesus uses. And indeed many of his actual words taken from this text have entered the language. We can immediately call to mind common phrases such as “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile” which are used by people who have no idea of their origin.
The common understanding is that Jesus is ratcheting things up for his followers. In the Old Testament, for example, the rule “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was brought in to moderate an earlier system which worked on the principle “a life for an eye, a life for a tooth.”
And now Jesus says, “Offer the wicked man no resistance” as a further moderation. He raises the standard and moves things on to a completely new level by advocating the kind of passive resistance as later taken up by the likes of Ghandi and Martin Luther King.
However, I chose my words carefully when I said, “it seems very clear”, because once you look below the surface things are not always as clear as all that.
The whole business of “turn the other cheek” is a case in point. We modern readers we take this teaching at a literal level and understand it as a physical attack to which we make no response, even going so far as to invite our opponent to hit us again.
But when you read the commentaries some other considerations come to the surface. What we find is that this is not so much about a physical attack as an insult.
Because of the nature of the wording here in Matthew’s account the scholars think that what is being referred to is being hit by the back of the opponent’s left hand. This implies an insult rather than an assault. The Christian, we are being told, simply turns away.
So we should be quite clear that Jesus is not saying that we ought to allow ourselves to be abused. We should not abase ourselves before our enemies. No we should retain the moral high ground and rise above the fray, as it were.
The Christian thing to do is to ignore the insult. This, therefore, is not so much about inviting further injury as refraining from retaliation, not perpetuating a disagreement.
Something similar is to be found in the teaching about loving our neighbour. The text says, “You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But actually this teaching is to be found nowhere in the Old Testament.
One might wonder if we are being misled here, and, if we can’t be misled by Jesus, then is it Mathew who is being a bit tricky?
I suppose the point is that the consequence of not loving your enemy is not that you hate them but that you might as well hate them because indifference towards them has much the same effect.
What Jesus is getting at is that if God loves them irrespective of their actions then we should be doing the very same.
You can analyse all these things to death. And although it is extremely interesting and informative to study these texts very closely it doesn’t necessarily move us forward.
The main point though is not that Jesus sets a higher standard for Christians than for everyone else. It is that instead of looking at what other people do or don’t do, we should be looking at what God does and this should be the guide for everyone.
God made us, God loves us irrespective of our actions, and God wants even the greatest sinner to love him in return and so wish to enter eternal life with him.
This is what should be the measure of our actions. Not treating others as we wish them to treat us but loving them in exactly the same way as God does.
This is not passionate love which the Greeks called eros, it is not the kind of love that comes from friendship which they called philia. No, it is the purest form of love that there is and the word used in the New Testament is agape which is often translated into English as charity.
But don’t be confused by that word either because this is not about Guide Dogs for the Blind or Cancer Research or any other official kind of charity.
This is loving others not because of any relationship or special closeness or even because they somehow deserve it. It is entirely generous, spontaneous and is given without thought of return. This love finds its expression simply because the other person exists.
In short, it is the kind of love that God has for us. And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is inviting us to lead the kind of life in which this specific kind of love is our motivating force.
We Christians take up this challenge. We’re not very good at it, but at least we are giving it a go and we really do want to love our fellow human beings in this wonderful way.
Often we forget, and frequently we revert to lower feelings and desires; but the reason we are sitting in this Church this morning is because we want to live our lives in accordance with the Gospels. We can see the way ahead and we know that it is the road to fulfilment and the only road which brings glory to God. Having this desire is all that Christ asks of us.
There is a story of a reporter who visited a lep er colony run by some nuns in a developing country. He saw a young nun bathing the badly infected wounds of leprous patient. He couldn’t bear to look at the terrible wounds and said to the nun, ‘I wouldn’t do that for a million pounds!”
She simply replied, “Neither would I.”
Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
February 23, 2014
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
This Sunday’s gospel reading is taken from the section in Matthew’s Gospel that came to be called the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7). Matthew summarizes the teaching of Jesus on a variety of life issues such as anger, adultery, retaliation, almsgiving, prayer, money, judging others, and discipleship. Jesus teaches us how to respond to those who do us evil. He tells us to love them, and to pray for those who persecute us.
Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time: The Law of Talons vs the Law of Love, Capital Punishment and the Catholic
I want to begin this morning with a phrase from the famous English writer G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton was at the height of his literary career about ninety years ago. He took a serious look at his relationship with God and asked to be received into the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps you might remember from your school days that Chesterton loved to coin phrases that at first glance were humorous, but on further thought were really quite deep. One of my favorites is: The problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting but that it has not been tried.
Turn the Other Cheek?
“Love your enemies.” “Turn the other cheek.” (Mat 5:38-40). This sounds admirable to some, but preposterous to others. The 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche thought such talk promotes a society of weaklings. Karl Marx thought these words keep the oppressed under the thumbs of the capitalists.
Does Jesus want us to be doormats, suckers who allow ourselves to be taken advantage of by every bully, dictator and gangster that comes down the pike?
Pope Francis: Gossip Is Poisonous
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ Sunday Angelus message emphasized the importance of avoiding all forms of slander in living a Christian life.
“It’s so rotten, gossip. At the beginning, it seems to be something enjoyable and fun, like a piece of candy. But at the end, it fills the heart with bitterness and also poisons us,” Pope Francis said Feb. 16.
“I tell you the truth,” he preached to the crowds filling St. Peter’s Square. “I am convinced that if each one of us would purposely avoid gossip, at the end, we would become a saint! It’s a beautiful path!”
Your Soul Is Worth So Much
All the money, possessions, houses, mountains, oceans, animals, all of creation itself has much less value than your immortal soul. Your immortal soul has infinite value. Nobody in the world can fully plumb the depths of the value of just ONE immortal soul.
How do we know this? Jesus articulates this with luminous clarity: “What would it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his life in the process? What can a man give in exchange for his immortal soul?(Mk. 8:36)
Were You Made for Greatness or for God?
One of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s most often quoted lines is this:
It’s a good line, but did he ever really say it? Well, I’ve been doing some digging to try and track down this line (Others have tried too). To me, it looks like he never actually said it. However, he said a couple things that were close. In a visit with German pilgrims in the first month of his pontificate, back in April, 2005, Benedict said:
How the accounts of Jesus’ childhood fit together: 6 things to know and share
Both Matthew and Luke contain accounts of Jesus’ infancy.
But they don’t describe all the same events.
As a result, some have even accused Matthew and Luke of contradicting each other.
What’s the true story? Why did they record different events? And can the two be fit together?
Here are 6 things to know and share . . .
Why Mary’s Picture Hangs In a Catholic Home
You’ve seen pictures of the Immaculate Heart of Mary beside the Sacred Heart of Jesus in many Catholic homes. In our home, the “alliance of the two hearts” devotion, (as it is popularly called) is not just a design fix to balance out our fireplace mantle decor. Mary is enthroned with Jesus after a solemn ceremony based on theologically sound reasons for Mary’s role in our family: she is our mother, queen and intercessor.