Green Room

Sunday reflection: Matthew 5:38-48

posted at 10:01 am on February 23, 2014 by

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular Green Room feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection only represents my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion.

Today’s gospel reading is 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.”

This passage is one of the more memorable of the Gospels, and one of the most quoted and debated. Does Christianity mean complete pacifism, and require us to be victims of those who would delight in doing evil? Does it mean that “perfection” is simply to surrender at all times to everybody?

To me, this is both a warning and a mission from Jesus to his disciples — that the path of salvation would mean sacrificing the human sense of justice in favor of divine mercy. The Abrahamic/Mosaic law of justice – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – was given not as a complete recompense for injustice but as a maximum limit for compensation. That concept still rings down in law today in the more modern formula, Let the punishment fit the crime, meaning that the punishment should not exceed the crime to satiate revenge, nor fall short of it to create injustice.

Here, though, Jesus tasks his disciples with the mission of salvation as a higher priority over temporal forms of justice. He wants His followers to model salvation and God’s mercy through their actions more than their words. What better way to do so than to eschew personal and temporal justices for slights? If those who assault us and slander us are our “enemies,” then Christ calls us to actively model God’s forgiveness by forgoing recompense for injuries to ourselves. We are to love our enemies rather than seek revenge or even justice, and thereby spread the word of the Gospel.

Asking these men to forgo justice is more serious than we sometimes think. Although the disciples will not make the connection initially, this is a sign of how different the Messiah will be from their expectations.  The Israelites expected a Messiah who would deliver God’s justice in a direct and temporal manner on their enemies, giving them the satisfaction that justice promises. In the context of the Roman occupation, they expected the Messiah to crush the Romans and restore the Davidic kingdom in this world. They expected and anticipated the humiliation of their enemies.

Instead, the message of Jesus foreshadows the Great Commission. The forgiveness of enemies and the turning of cheeks are models of God’s forgiveness of our sins and our rejection of Him. When Christ goes to Jerusalem, He will not merely turn His cheek and give up His cloak; His captors will beat Him nearly to death, take His clothes for gambling, and kill Him on a cross. For doing this to the Son of God, mankind should receive the most terrible judgment. Instead of justice, though, this produces the greatest act of mercy. Through this sacrifice, Christ will save the world in an act of divine love, and send His apostles out to spread the Word while modeling its message.

How better to do so than to show forgiveness out of love — love of God as expressed by love of neighbor and even enemies? As Jesus Himself points out, it’s not terribly impressive to demonstrate love for one’s self or one’s family. Even the Romans loved their family and friends. Even the tax collectors were friendly to their friends. Loving those who wound us enough to embrace them and include them in salvation — that’s what Jesus did, and what He calls disciples to do in this passage.

What, then, do we do about justice? We still need to order society for safety and security with just institutions. In the reading today from Leviticus 19:17-18, the Lord tells Moses, “Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  We are to act in love even while having to reprove our neighbor as a civic duty, but Jesus calls disciples to seek the love of neighbor first as the higher priority in our personal dealings.

Even today, perhaps especially in America, the idea of forgoing justice is counterintuitive. It is a difficult teaching to put in practice, maybe more so on behalf of those we love than for ourselves. It is these opportunities to demonstrate God’s love to which Christ calls us, though, and we make those an offering to Christ as our own small sacrifices and our continuous prayer. Our satisfaction has to remain in the Lord and His comfort, and trust in His mercy and justice.

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Non sequitur.

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 3:03 PM

Your comment seems self-referential.

DarkCurrent on February 23, 2014 at 3:10 PM

Non sequitur.

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 3:11 PM

That seems to suggest some borrowing was going on between connected cultures, don’t you think?

DarkCurrent on February 23, 2014 at 2:44 PM

No, it suggests that a lot of ideas are common/ubiquitous even without direct transmission from person to person/culture to culture.

Here’s your logic:

John likes pizza.
Mike likes pizza.
Therefore, it follows that John and Mike have met/discussed pizza.

Good Solid B-Plus on February 23, 2014 at 3:21 PM

Oldest-known Holocaust survivor dies at 110

http://www.breitbart.com/system/wire/ap_db78fd5de33648f4a5d6ab119284e08f

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 3:25 PM

Do you suppose Buddhism was unheard of in the eastern Mediterranean prior to sometime after the year 0 CE?

DarkCurrent on February 23, 2014 at 3:01 PM

Unheard of? No, Largely confined to scholars, universities and libraries? Seems likely, since no Greek texts from Greece/other parts of the empire mention Buddhism. The only mentions of Buddhisms (of the Brahmans, to be exact) were from texts produced inside the Mauryana Empire but written in Greek.

Good Solid B-Plus on February 23, 2014 at 3:27 PM

No, it suggests that a lot of ideas are common/ubiquitous even without direct transmission from person to person/culture to culture.

Here’s your logic:

John likes pizza.
Mike likes pizza.
Therefore, it follows that John and Mike have met/discussed pizza.

Good Solid B-Plus on February 23, 2014 at 3:21 PM

My suggestion is more like:

John used to eat a lot of carrots
Mike invented pizza and it spread to the area where John lives
Now John eats pizza with a heaping carrot topping
It seems that Mike might have influenced John’s dietary habits

DarkCurrent on February 23, 2014 at 3:29 PM

Unheard of? No, Largely confined to scholars, universities and libraries? Seems likely, since no Greek texts from Greece/other parts of the empire mention Buddhism. The only mentions of Buddhisms (of the Brahmans, to be exact) were from texts produced inside the Mauryana Empire but written in Greek.

Good Solid B-Plus on February 23, 2014 at 3:27 PM

Ideas also spread by word of mouth where there is human interaction

DarkCurrent on February 23, 2014 at 3:31 PM

I guess we’ll have to alter our skepticism manuals once again. It used to be that Jesus was influenced by His time spent with the Egyptian shamans, then it was the Code of Hammurabi, and now it’s Buddha.

It seems He, like all 1st century Hebrews, had no original thoughts of His own.

Cleombrotus on February 23, 2014 at 3:50 PM

Ideas also spread by word of mouth where there is human interaction

DarkCurrent on February 23, 2014 at 3:31 PM

Yeah, and the important ones tend to get written down. Your claim is just as credulous as saying an unknown person X influenced every major religion (Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity, etc), but all of his ideas were transmitted by word of mouth, so he’s lost to history.

John used to eat a lot of carrots
Mike invented pizza and it spread to the area where John lives
Now John eats pizza with a heaping carrot topping
It seems that Mike might have influenced John’s dietary habits

DarkCurrent on February 23, 2014 at 3:29 PM

Of the vague similarities between Buddhism and the Gospels, which of those ideas were “invented” by Siddhartha Gautama?

Good Solid B-Plus on February 23, 2014 at 3:52 PM

I guess we’ll have to alter our skepticism manuals once again. It used to be that Jesus was influenced by His time spent with the Egyptian shamans, then it was the Code of Hammurabi, and now it’s Buddha.

It seems He, like all 1st century Hebrews, had no original thoughts of His own.

Cleombrotus on February 23, 2014 at 3:50 PM

Not to mention that Jesus is fake and his story is just a copy of Mithraism. That’s another one new-agers and anti-theists like to throw around.

Good Solid B-Plus on February 23, 2014 at 3:53 PM

I come here for the nice vibe and hope it stays that way. Many other threads to discuss things and I wish this one will stay on topic. When I enter another man’s house and he is not wearing shoes I take mine off without regard or question.

One thing my great-grand mum tried to teach us grand-children was to learn to forgive and remember. From the subject matter today…she was very wise and I think I now understand her lessons…well 50 years later, but still I’m still learning.

HonestLib on February 23, 2014 at 3:53 PM

I misspoke, make that 60 years later!

HonestLib on February 23, 2014 at 3:56 PM

The thing to keep in mind…our lives on this Earth are but a blink of the eye in terms of eternity. Our soul lives on after our death…and eternity is a might long time.

Our bodily lives may experience hunger, thirst, attacks, etc…and all will be made well in the afterlife. To those who endure the harshest of lives, the greater their rewards shall be in the presence of God in His kingdom.

JetBoy on February 23, 2014 at 12:24 PM

JB, my wife is struggling with MS and fibromyalgia and other things. She is in a lot of pain and has tremors which wear her out. The emotional toll has been great. Friday she opened up and said she was wavering in her faith. She can’t understand that with people all over the world praying for her why isn’t there some relief?

We talked about my brother-in-law who died from cancer last summer. He was a world traveler, a very godly man. He had thousands if not tens of thousands of people praying for him.

And we talked about what my sister is going through having lost the man she has loved for so many years.

We talked about the children you see on TV who have cancer and other diseases.

I know the answers. I studied the “problem of evil.” I know what the philosophers say. I know what the theologians say.

They are right, but when you moan in your sleep from the pain, as she does, or when it’s your little one who is hurting so badly, the bottom line “Why?” cannot be answered.

Only trust in the Father can keep us. And her’s was wavering.

I just now read your post to her. It spoke to her. It brought tears to her eyes, and she asked me to email it to her.

Thank you.

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 4:02 PM

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Creator of heaven and earth, before Whom no god was and after Whom no god will be, put His law into the hearts and minds of man.

I am not surprised to find that His precepts written down by others.

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 4:08 PM

Yeah, and the important ones tend to get written down.

Good Solid B-Plus on February 23, 2014 at 3:52 PM

They were. See Tripitka and New Testament

DarkCurrent on February 23, 2014 at 4:11 PM

I misspoke, make that 60 years later!

HonestLib on February 23, 2014 at 3:56 PM

You’re 80+ years, HL?

But, yeah, it is good to remember to behave oneself while being a guest. Don’t do things that yer parents wouldn’t ya get away with at home. How I was raised, too.

whatcat on February 23, 2014 at 4:35 PM

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 4:02 PM

Your post made me pause and reflect on how lucky I am with a healthy family. Man, sorry to hear about your wife’s troubles.

HonestLib on February 23, 2014 at 4:36 PM

You’re 80+ years, HL?
whatcat on February 23, 2014 at 4:35 PM

Oops, nevermind, my eyes hadn’t adjusted/unfrozen coming in from outdoors yet, I saw the 6 as an 8!

whatcat on February 23, 2014 at 4:38 PM

They are right, but when you moan in your sleep from the pain, as she does, or when it’s your little one who is hurting so badly, the bottom line “Why?” cannot be answered.

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 4:02 PM

Best wishes to you both

DarkCurrent on February 23, 2014 at 4:46 PM

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 4:02 PM

Your post made me pause and reflect on how lucky I am with a healthy family. Man, sorry to hear about your wife’s troubles.

HonestLib on February 23, 2014 at 4:36 PM

Thank you.

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 4:55 PM

They are right, but when you moan in your sleep from the pain, as she does, or when it’s your little one who is hurting so badly, the bottom line “Why?” cannot be answered.

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 4:02 PM

Best wishes to you both

DarkCurrent on February 23, 2014 at 4:46 PM

Thank you.

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 4:56 PM

A couple of comments;

Your claim is just as credulous as saying an unknown person X influenced every major religion (Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity, etc), but all of his ideas were transmitted by word of mouth, so he’s lost to history.

There is a person X who has indeed influenced every major religion. God.

Next in my own life I have often wondered why my prayers for certain results don’t get answered. I am a salesman and I wanted more sales. And my answer eventually was that that is not exactly how God works. For me I had to put my faith into Goodness in a sense. That I had to believe, put my faith in the qualities of God. That there are good people out there, that I trust that there is a payoff in me being good, being kind, being of service, that the results were in a sense secondary.

3rd in our Bible class reviewing the reading for Sunday, our Phd who leads the class said that much of this reading of Matthew is not about simply being Pacifist. It is a little bit about shaming the person who is taking from you. The original does not say take my shirt and my cloak also, it says take my shirt and my undergarments as well. So she said think of it this way. “So you want to take my shirt, here take my dirty underpants too while you are at it.” The point was instead of fighting the other person, with a snappy retort make them stop and think are you asking too much? It was to make the other person stop and think are they doing the right thing.

odannyboy on February 23, 2014 at 6:07 PM

They were. See Tripitka and New Testament

DarkCurrent on February 23, 2014 at 4:11 PM

Cool, again, so you can show me the texts written in the ANE that mention Buddhism, right?

I’ll be waiting.

Good Solid B-Plus on February 23, 2014 at 6:19 PM

. . . Our bodily lives may experience hunger, thirst, attacks, etc…and all will be made well in the afterlife. To those who endure the harshest of lives, the greater their rewards shall be in the presence of God in His kingdom.

JetBoy on February 23, 2014 at 12:24 PM

. . . They are right, but when you moan in your sleep from the pain, as she does, or when it’s your little one who is hurting so badly, the bottom line “Why?” cannot be answered.

Only trust in the Father can keep us. And her’s was wavering.
I just now read your post to her. It spoke to her. It brought tears to her eyes, and she asked me to email it to her.

Thank you.

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 4:02 PM

God bless both of you, JB and davidk, and all here and your families.

davidk, your wife and your whole family are in my prayers.

“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him,”(1 Corinthiand 2:9)

Elisa on February 23, 2014 at 6:24 PM

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 4:02 PM

It’s sooo heartbreaking to watch lives such as your dear wife’s and work through all of those wavering, questioning times.
You are hers for HIS reasons, DK, as I’m sure you know.

We have a very good friend suffering virtually the same troubles.
Over the years, I can’t count the hours on the phone in despair, etc.
One day, she called in marvelous spirits, since she actually heard an answer to her many ‘why must I bear this, Lord ?’s. !!!

He simply said: ‘Because with Me, daughter, you can! Watch Me work’

And He HAS .. worked .. in marvelous ways.
I am most certain He is in your case, too.
Prayers, always.

pambi on February 23, 2014 at 6:24 PM

It is these opportunities to demonstrate God’s love to which Christ calls us, though, and we make those an offering to Christ as our own small sacrifices and our continuous prayer. Our satisfaction has to remain in the Lord and His comfort, and trust in His mercy and justice.

Very beautiful.

Thanks again, Ed, as always.

Elisa on February 23, 2014 at 6:26 PM

I am a salesman and I wanted more sales. And my answer eventually was that that is not exactly how God works. For me I had to put my faith into Goodness in a sense. That I had to believe, put my faith in the qualities of God. That there are good people out there, that I trust that there is a payoff in me being good, being kind, being of service, that the results were in a sense secondaryodannyboy on February 23, 2014 at 6:07 PM

As the wife of a salesman for 43 years, I’ve witnessed this precise ‘epiphany’, if you will, with DH.
Most recently, maybe 6 mos ago, he’d lost 2 of his best customers to PROVABLE sabotage by his competitors.
Although urged by others to challenge them, He simply rested in God’s grace, goodness, and his Godly integrity, and one of those is back, as of last week.

You are right on.

pambi on February 23, 2014 at 7:17 PM

I have read everyone’s comments to my wife. She is encouraged by them. Thank you all.

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 7:44 PM

I have read everyone’s comments to my wife. She is encouraged by them. Thank you all.

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 7:44 PM

We are encouraged by your wife with all her struggles. Tell her I said thank you for her spirit. We should all be so strong.

HonestLib on February 23, 2014 at 8:20 PM

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 4:02 PM

Wow. I’m not sure what to say.

I hadn’t realized your wife was going through anything like this. What your both going through. You can add one more person to the prayers for you two.

My bf of five years…the first real relationship I had…passed away from cystic fibrosis a few years back. His health had gotten considerably worse in the last year of his life, he was put on oxygen, nebulizer…eventually, just trying to breathe was painful for him, as CF wreaks havoc on the lungs…and had to make quite a few hospital stays.

And the last visit to the hospital, he was put in the ICU, slipped into a coma state and passed away three days later. I spent those three days with him, and it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to deal with. He was, to me, the most genuine and nice person I ever met.

I’m sure you feel that same way about your wife. And the doubt, frustration, and anger you can feel at seeing such a wonderful, beautiful person in such pain, and think about how a loving, benevolent God could allow such a person to suffer like that. And those kinds of things can sometimes cause a person to begin to question his or her faith.

I go to words of St. Claude de la Colombiere:

God is touched by our sorrows and does not allow them to last forever. He takes pleasure in trying our love for a time because he sees that trials purify us and render us worthy to receive his greater graces.

Our sorrows and pains in this life truly serve to strengthen our faith through Christ. As He suffered through the Passion, so do those suffering most amongst us. It is those who suffer in this life who closely follow in Christ’s footsteps on Calvary. It is they who will reap the greatest rewards in Heaven.

My prayers are with you.

JetBoy on February 23, 2014 at 8:21 PM

My prayers are with you.

JetBoy on February 23, 2014 at 8:21 PM

Again, thank you.

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 8:38 PM

We are encouraged by your wife with all her struggles. Tell her I said thank you for her spirit. We should all be so strong.

HonestLib on February 23, 2014 at 8:20 PM

I told what you said. She was nonplussed.

(You know that look a woman gets when someone surprises her with something nice and she doesn’t know what to say? Yeah. She had that look.)

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 8:50 PM

davidk on February 23, 2014 at 8:50 PM

…sorry…I had no idea brother!…I just came back to this thread…(seeing the count)!…thoughts and prayer are coming your way davidk

KOOLAID2 on February 23, 2014 at 11:10 PM

Thank you Ed for the very insightful interpretation of the lesson, I had never thought of it in that manner. It reminds me of Peter’s dream where he thought he had eaten an unclean animal and Jesus reassured him that anything God made was clean, once again showing the difference between the old covenant and the new. It is still a very difficult lesson to live, how do you keep turning your cheek when you keep getting hit? I don’t think Jesus meant for us to do this. In Matthew 18, Jesus told us that if your brother sins against you, tell him in private, if he repents, good if not, take it to the church in front of two or three witnesses and if he still refuses to acknowledge his sin cast him out. I don’t think we should ignore the sin, but to understand what the issue is and try to resolve it as non-violently as possible. Once again Ed, thanks for doing this, I look forward to it.

Bikerdon on February 24, 2014 at 6:47 AM

Ed again thank you. So many interpretations have been given to this passage that it is hard to imagine any new ones.
But the words are clear so we struggle between the need for having laws to rule our behavoiur and impart justice and order in a social structure while at the same time forgiving and learnig how to love those who have truly injured us.
I do not think that Jesus want to leave any sense of vaguenes about what he ment by “love thy neighbor as you love yourself”.

Libre1234 on February 24, 2014 at 12:54 PM

Cool, again, so you can show me the texts written in the ANE that mention Buddhism, right?

I’ll be waiting.

Good Solid B-Plus on February 23, 2014 at 6:19 PM

As far as I know none are extant, though they may have once existed. Religious books used to have a tendency to be burned, particularly if they weren’t in good agreement with cults that came to prominence.

Do you suppose Buddhism was unknown in Jerusalem at the time of the rise of Christianity? It’s well established fact that it was known as far west as Greece for centuries before.

DarkCurrent on February 24, 2014 at 5:10 PM

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