When someone hits you on your right cheek, what would your response be? When I asked several people this question, without reminding them of Jesus’s teachings on loving one’s enemies, none of them told me that they would also offer their left cheek to be slapped. They were  amused and said, “no way,” when I suggested to offer the other cheek to those who wanted to harm them. The most common reaction to this situation is to retaliate by hitting back.

Our Gospel for today allows us to revisit some Old Testament laws for justice: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Ex 21:24; Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21). These laws were originally given to limit vengeance and give a judge a certain guide when ruling a case. No one could be punished above the wrongdoings they had afflicted. For instance, if a person harmed someone’s eye, then it would only cost that person’s eye. As time went by, people began to use “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” to justify their acts of revenge.

In reaction to this, Jesus was telling them to consciously control the feelings of revenge. Violence is not a godly response to violence.  A person must show love and forgiveness through prayers and mercy to those who harm him or her. Jesus’ listeners must have been surprised with these teachings. When Jesus said to love your enemies, the first thing that came to mind of those who heard him, who were predominantly Jews, were the Romans who oppressed them. In a way, Jesus challenged his followers to love and pray for the people who ruled them, treated them like slaves and burdened them with heavy taxes.

Such a high standard way of life is challenging to follow. We often fail to love those who mercilessly treat us. The love that Jesus is calling is beyond the capacity of our human nature. We need the grace of the Holy Spirit through our faith and the Sacraments to be able to follow the more challenging teachings of Jesus. The more we realize how deeply God loves us, the better we can live Jesus’ teachings.

Following the footsteps of Jesus has never been that easy. The outward observance of the law is not enough. God does not simply call us to avoid sinning or avoid doing harm. God invites us to be merciful to others, even to those who might have hurt us, which is not a usual human response.

When we act in a way that is different from people’s expectations, we open the possibility for new things to happen in our life. We open the opportunity to live in a way that goes beyond the circle of violence that continues to destroy our world. So, whenever we have the opportunity, let us turn the other cheek, by going the extra mile in showing to our neighbors a new way of living that reveals the holiness and mercy of God.

 

Fr. Dennis