Grace to you!
Reading God's Word in Scripture is inspiring. As often as I do, I am filled with joy. It is a "lamp to my feet and light to my path" (Ps 119:105).
In these words, I find the good things that satisfy the heart and keep me on fire for what is good, and praiseworthy and just. In the Word, I also find truths that are challenging and difficult to follow. As Scripture says, the Word is like the sword of the Spirit, piercing through my heart with its discerning and challenging insights (see Heb 4:12).
In the written Word of God, Scripture, God points us in the direction of holiness, a path that is not a game of fantasy. Many of the texts are revolutionary.
As an example, consider the Gospel of Matthew 5:38-42. It is one of the sermons the Lord delivered on the Mount, popularly called the Sermon on the Mount. I have been sharing some thoughts on this Sermon since last week. Hearing those words, we see that the Lord’s ways are different from ours.
The Lord tells us: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you” (Mt 5:38-42).
The Lord addressed those words to his audience at the time. He admonishes us too. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" was a human way of retribution. It is the so-called lex talionis (meaning, the "law of retaliation").
For the ethical person of the time, this law was morally just and was an accepted social practice. The expectation was that a victim should hand commensurate harm against a culprit who hurt them. Only this could bring closure. Just like a worldly-minded would say, if someone commits an act of violence against you or your race, you are justified to commit acts of violence against the person. Naturally, we feel that way. The desire to pay back in the same coin someone who has hurt us feels natural to us. We feel a sense of need to do so. Many times, the sense of need we feel to retaliate turns into a duty to do so. We feel justified in doing so.
In the above text (Mt 5:38-42), the Lord shows us a completely different way of responding to harm done against us. For any person who desires to follow the Lord's way of holiness, it has to be different. No spirit of vengeance whatsoever is to be in the heart of the believer. The Lord proposes zero tolerance for revenge. Vengeance has some evil in it. Evil is evil no matter where it is found, and for which reason it is done. Machiavelli's famous line, "the end justifies the means" isn't Christ's way.
Some caveat, though, is necessary. The Lord suggests "turning the other cheek" and "going two miles" at the request of our enemy. These lines are not to be taken literarily. They are a metaphor. The Lord uses metaphors to teach heavenly truths. We have to see them as applying patience and charity, pure love, in dealing with evil people. This was how many Fathers of the Church interpreted the text.
We can't stave off evil by being vengeful. We triumph over evil by showing its contrast. Evil thrives when we oil its machine by acting like it. The only way to end evil is to replace it with the good. Overcome it with the opposite.
I know this is not always easy. It isn't easy for me also. It isn't popular either. God's grace will help us.
I am praying for the grace of love and patience and forgiveness. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Monday Week 11 Ordinary Time B: 1 Kgs 21:1-16; Mt 5:38-42]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.