Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
The Gospel is nothing if not an account of who God is and how the Kingdom of God works. At times, however, it can be bewildering. When attempting to apply it to our personal lives, it is hard to hear certain things in the Gospel. At times, we may regard what we read as allegorical that we might excuse or justify certain behaviors. Today's Gospel may well be one of those times.
In the Gospel reading from the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says to his disciples “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” alluding to the “old law” from the book of Exodus (Ex 20:7). Jesus continues, “but I say to you offer no resistance to one who is evil” (Mt 5:39). Then, taking us further into the realm of the Kingdom Jesus says: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other to him as well...Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.” (Mt 5:39, 41). Jesus is being very specific here and there is no reason to assume he means this allegorically. Not only is retaliation not a part of the Kingdom of God, but Jesus is asking his disciples to actively respond with LOVE. This is shocking. Especially when one feels retaliation is justified. In our present world, it seems retaliation is the clearest way to stop evil. As a mater of fact, we can all recall times when we have chosen to retaliate. We find ourselves re-acting out of emotions, anger, habit, and so forth. It is a very human and very narrow perspective. Jesus is saying responding to evil has a much deeper, even cosmic purpose.
The purpose of every teaching of the Master is to make God's Kingdom a reality. In the Kingdom of God every action takes on cosmic significance. Although not part of today’s readings, there is a verse from Ephesians that illustrates this: “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12) With this in mind, Jesus' words do not seem so very harsh and difficult; we are not dealing with 'human beings' so much as we are 'spiritual hosts', etc. It puts a different spin on everything and much of what seemed to call for retaliation now appears as silliness. People do bad things, but people are not the bad things they do. This does not mitigate, justify or undo evil deeds. The truth of this is realizing how limited it is to love in a purely human way which imposes conditions, is limited by my weakness, and can be set aside in anger or provocation.
The Sermon on the Mount brings us face to face with the ultimate decision of our existence: complete faith in God or faith in self. It is humanly impossible to live the calling found there—in and of ourselves. It is God who calls and God who provides the necessary grace. In a world that often seems hopeless and contrary to the Kingdom, where everything “human” calls for and justifies retaliation, God still reigns. God's 'Cosmic Plan', aka the Kingdom of God, though far beyond the limits of our understanding, prevails. This day, may we be granted the grace to live with our minds and hearts a bit more 'cosmically', more as Children of the Kingdom. May we see all our actions truly make a difference in the realm of the Kingdom of God.