7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
As a teenager, whenever I heard the gospel passage of today being read, I used to wonder if there is anyone in the world who would actually offer a cheek after having been struck on the other. It is quite possible to find people who would offer a tunic and a cloak or to walk the extra mile, and even to give without expecting it back. Jesus goes on to teach about loving our enemies and even that is quite possible. However, one cheek for another sounded to me overly demanding of Jesus from His disciples.
If we can begin to understand the context of Jesus’ teaching, then we would understand what Jesus demanded of His disciples. The gospel today begins with Jesus saying to His disciples, “You have learnt how it was said: eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth”. This saying comes from the book of Exodus (21:24) where it developed from a certain kind of a system of justice used in managing the community. However, over the centuries, what had happened is that the Jews had distorted the application of this law and used it to legitimise personal resentments and vendettas.
Therefore, what Jesus wanted to communicate to His disciples was about non-retaliation. In this context then, ‘turning the other cheek’ simply means not to return insult for insult, gossip for gossip, or hatred for hatred… doing things in retaliation; something that the people of Jesus’ time did and in fact even today, this is what most people expect and how worldly people act.
The rationale to Jesus teaching could be that when we respond to insult and hatred with love, it might just evoke attention of curiosity because it would just seem unnatural to act that way. When we act in the way Jesus asks His disciples to do in the gospel today, it can only display the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit because what Jesus is asking is not the way the world would expect any person to respond. In fact, Jesus was the perfect example because He was silent before His accusers and did not call down revenge from heaven on those who crucified Him but rather prayed that His Father in heaven would forgive them.
We also find that there are times when people use these very words of Jesus against us by saying that Christians should not defend themselves against some forms of persecution. I am convinced that ‘turning the other cheek’ does not mean that a Christian should remain passive when faced with adversity. The context and message of Jesus is quite clear: we should not allow ourselves to be provoked to take revenge. Revenge is not the way of a Christian disciple. In fact, rendering evil with evil only perpetuates the vicious cycle. The way to fight against evil is love – the way of Jesus.
For it is in this context that when Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt 5:48), He wasn’t talking about being perfect in the way we understand the word today: sinless, without fault, or impeccable. In a nutshell, what Jesus was asking of His disciples is that, let your love be complete just as how God’s love is. We know that God loves all people, even evil ones. For us to be “perfect” as God is, simply means that our love for one another must grow and mature, which includes, loving our enemies. For if we fail to love our enemies, we fail to act as children of God. Let us pray that our love will grow and mature each time we meet Jesus in the Eucharist and that we overcome evil with love just as how Jesus did. Amen.