GOSPEL READING: Matthew 5:38-42
38 “You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 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; 40 and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; 41 and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.
Meditation: If someone insults you or tries to take advantage of you, how do you respond? Do you repay in kind? Jesus approached the question of just retribution with a surprising revelation of God’s intention for how we should treat others, especially those who mistreat us. When Jesus spoke about God’s law, he did something no one had done before. He gave a new standard based not just on the requirements of justice – giving each their due – but based on the law of grace, love, and freedom.
Law of grace and love
Jesus knew the moral law and its intention better than any jurist or legal expert could imagine. He quoted from the oldest recorded law in the world: If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (Exodus 21:23-25). Such a law today seems cruel, but it was meant to limit vengeance as a first step towards mercy. This law was not normally taken literally but served as a guide for a judge in a law court for assessing punishment and penalty (see Deuteronomy 19:18).
The Old Testament is full of references to the command that we must be merciful: You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:18). If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink (Proverbs 25:21). Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done” (Proverbs 24:29). Let him give his cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults (Lamentations 3:30).
Jesus does something quite remarkable and unheard of. He transforms the law of mercy with grace, forbearance, and loving-kindness. Jesus also makes clear that there is no room for retaliation. We must not only avoid returning evil for evil, but we must seek the good of those who wish us ill. Do you accept insults, as Jesus did, with no resentment or malice? When you are compelled by others to do more than you think you deserve, do you insist on your rights, or do you respond with grace and cheerfulness?
Grace of the Holy Spirit
What makes a disciple of Jesus Christ different from everyone else? What makes Christianity distinct from any other religion? It is grace – treating others, not as they deserve, but as God wishes them to be treated – with loving-kindness and mercy. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can free us from the tyranny of malice, hatred, revenge, and resentment and gives us the courage to return evil with good. Such love and grace has power to heal and to save from destruction. The Lord Jesus suffered insult, abuse, injustice, and death on a cross for our sake. Scripture tells us that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin and guilt (Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7, I John 1:7, Revelation 1:5). Since God has been merciful towards us through the offering of his Son, Jesus Christ, we in turn are called to be merciful towards our neighbor, even those who cause us grief and harm. Do you know the power and freedom of Christ’s redeeming love and mercy?
O merciful God, fill our hearts, we pray, with the graces of your Holy Spirit; with love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. Teach us to love those who hate us; to pray for those who despitefully use us; that we may be the children of your love, our Father, who makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. In adversity grant us grace to be patient; in prosperity keep us humble; may we guard the door of our lips; may we lightly esteem the pleasures of this world, and thirst after heavenly things; through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Prayer of Anselm, 1033-1109 AD)
1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
2 The LORD has made known his victory, he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!