The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Homily: Monday, 11th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Cor 6:1-10; Psalm 98; Mt 5:38-42

A few years ago, while Diane and I were on a cruise, we met a couple at dinner that happened to be from a nearby town here in central Florida. The man was from a ranching family, and since we shared the same dinner table every day, we heard many wonderful stories about Florida life years ago.

One evening, when he learned that I was a deacon, he told us that his family was one of the few Catholic families in the area. He said he used to get beat up a lot in school because of his faith, but then laughed and said, "I got used to it."

Years later, he told us, he ran into an old classmate who had become a Baptist minister. As they talked, the man said he had recently converted to Catholicism, a journey that began when he used to see our new friend get beat up in school.

"You were a big guy, but you never retaliated. You just took it and went on. I realized I was witnessing the Sermon on the Mount in action. That got me interested in the Catholic faith."

Whenever I think of him and then read the Sermon on the Mount, especially the words of today's Gospel passage, I find myself wondering whether I am savable.

How often do we find ourselves treated badly by others? How often do people take advantage of us? And how often do we want to respond in kind? It's so very human, isn't it? We get angry, or hostile, or indignant, all because we were treated badly. And, Oh, we do find ways to get even, don't we?

As we just heard, Jesus rejects this, the Mosaic Law spelled out in Leviticus [Lv 24:19-20] and Exodus [Ex 21:24], the idea of "an eye for an eye..." It's often what is called lex talionis, or the law of retaliation. In truth this law really wasn't an encouragement to take revenge, since revenge was often excessive. No, the law stressed that punishment for an assault should be restricted, and never exceed the suffering experienced; i.e., an eye for an eye. From a human perspective it seems reasonable, and is certainly present in many aspects of our criminal law today.

But Jesus calls us to something greater, something so un-human it can only be divine. And it's another of those hard sayings that fill the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus just seems to overturn everything the world believes to be right.

What does He tell us? Don't repay evil with more of the same. Instead, offer no resistance to the one who does evil. Then He utters that famous command: "turn the other cheek" [Mt 5:39]. But He doesn't stop there. If someone takes your coat, give him the rest of your clothing. If someone asks for your help, double it. And don't turn away beggars and borrowers.

As you might imagine, not many Christians spend a lot of time mulling over these verses. Best to ignore them. After all, Jesus is probably exaggerating - a little Jewish hyperbole. A bit of a maybe if we ignore it it'll go away sort of thing. But Jesus doesn't say things He doesn't what exactly does He mean? Should we take Him literally? 

And who should we imitate, some movie action-hero, one of those Arnold Schwarzenegger characters who makes sure the bad guys pay, or Jesus Christ, who let the bad guys nail Him to a Cross, and then forgave them? Jesus certainly turned the other cheek, didn't He? He didn't resist as they spat at Him, beat Him, and then killed Him.

After all, Jesus wasn't defenseless. What did He say to the Apostles in the garden?
"Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?" [Mt 26:53]
Jesus, you see, is no victim here. He remains in total control. Those who torment Him are barbaric, but Jesus maintains His dignity and His strength.

Is He telling us, then, that we cannot act in self-defense? Not at all, taking revenge is very different from protecting oneself, or one's family, or one's country. No, in urging us to follow His example, Jesus calls on us to use self-restraint, and in turn to call others to him through love and forgiveness. Being vengeful is the easy path, the human way, but not the better or divine way. And we are called to perfection, aren't we?

You and I don't have to look farther than the headlines or the TV news to see the results of revenge and retaliation. Too often it leads only to a never-ending cycle of violence.

And keep in mind, when we follow Jesus' example, we are, in effect, turning it all over to the Father, and allowing Him to act in our lives, just as He has since the beginning of time. By following Jesus we show that we understand the nature of our relationship with the Father: He is sovereign and we are His children.

In our first reading Paul reminds us "not to receive the grace of God in vain" [2 Cor 6:1]. Indeed, without the constant flow of God's grace, you and I can do nothing good. We need His Holy Spirit acting within us. Only then, when we are open to the Spirit, will God act through us to overcome the evil of the world with good...for we certainly can't do it alone.

No comments:

Post a Comment