Turning the Other Cheek?

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Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Matthew 5:38-42

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

Opening Prayer: You have given me the gift of another day, Lord. I want to live it to the full! I want to give you glory by living my life abundantly! Teach me to pour my faith and my love into everything I do. Teach me to find you and your love in all the duties, encounters, and experiences of this day. I know you are always with me, thinking of me, leading and guiding me. As I come before you in prayer today, I humbly ask you to teach me how to see your presence and walk with you always and everywhere…

Encountering Christ:

  1. Seeing Others as Christ Does: These words of our Lord are so familiar to us. Maybe too familiar. Turn the other cheek; go the extra mile; give to the one who asks… These are behaviors that flow from a way of seeing other people. Our fallen human nature sees other people as competitors, threats, obstacles, tools. And so we are always ready to defend, to take advantage, to outsmart. Jesus is inviting us to adopt a different perspective. He wants us to drop our shields and take off our masks. He wants us to discover the dignity and the worth of other people, regardless of their flaws and sins. He wants us to learn to see others as he sees them—as children of God and saints in the making. When we see others in that way, we unleash new strength in our own hearts. We are able to choose how we respond to insults (being struck on the right cheek implied a back-handed slap, the sign of an insult in Israel at the time of Jesus) and injustices (Roman soldiers could legally conscript local citizens to carry their loads for a mile at a time in Roman-occupied Israel). We can look past the brokenness of this world and the ugliness of our fallen nature to see the face of a brother even in strangers and opponents. This is Christ’s invitation. He believes in us so much that he actually invites and equips us to follow his own example: “While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). As we learn to do this, to live our relations with other people on the level of the deeper truth of our common human nature and Christian vocation, we will also learn what it really means to be blessed: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
  2. Being Freed from a Subtle Slavery: Some people have interpreted Christ’s injunction to “offer no resistance to evil” in a purely social way. This interpretation claims that we should never fight for what is true, good, and just. But that simply can’t be what Jesus really means. After all, Jesus also declared, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). Righteousness includes justice. Righteousness includes defending the defenseless against unjust attacks and exploitation. Righteousness includes pursuing and defending the common good by working for just laws, development, and peace. When Jesus invites us to “offer no resistance to evil,” he is not inviting us to ignore the forces of evil and to enable injustice. Rather, he is inviting us to master our self-righteous tendency to lash out at those who insult us on a person-to-person level. He is inviting us to leave behind the prisons of resentment and anger that we can be trapped in when people treat us unfairly. It is so easy to become a slave to anger in our personal lives. Jesus doesn’t want us to be a slave to anything. He wants us to learn to experience the “glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Have I experienced that? Would I like to experience it? Learning to curb our instinctual defensiveness and to understand and accept others even when they may not seem to deserve it—this can break the cycle of vengeance and build bridges of redemption. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
  3. Ahab and Jezebel: Today’s first reading recalls the story of the corrupt King Ahab and how he and his queen, Jezebel, used lies and subterfuge to murder an innocent citizen, Naboth, and steal his family vineyard. That story from 1 Kings 21 vividly illustrates the destructive repercussions of selfishness. When we are self-centered, we tend to see other people as obstacles or tools in relation to whatever we want. Ahab was so self-centered that he became depressed when he couldn’t convince Naboth to sell him his family’s ancestral heritage. Though a grown man, his spirit was so self-absorbed that he behaved like a spoiled child when his whims weren’t heeded. Jezebel was even more self-absorbed. She not only coveted wealth and comfort, as Ahab did, but she reveled in the accumulation and exercise of power. For her, Naboth’s integrity and honor were a challenge. Was he strong enough to resist her machinations? She engaged the machinery of corruption and had him falsely accused and executed. She aggrandized herself and experienced a twisted pleasure by showing how powerful she was, regardless of the human and moral wreckage she left in her wake. We are all Ahab and Jezebel. We are all tempted to assert ourselves at the expense of others. Jesus is trying to convince us to follow a different path, a truer and more fulfilling path. When we treat other people–all other people–as the brothers and sisters that they truly are in God’s eyes, the world itself is transformed, and we become beacons of light and life in this world rather than agents of darkness and destruction. 

Conversing with Christ: You call me to such a high standard, Lord. You invite me to give, to lend, to go the extra mile, to forgive, to return good for evil… This is how you lived. This is how you redeemed the world and gave us hope for reconciliation with God and for eternal life. This is how I am meant to live. I want to follow your call; I want to learn to see others–all others–as you see them. I want to learn to live with the strength and freedom that come from being anchored in this deeper truth. But it is not easy! I need your help, Lord. Grant me your grace, so that I may learn to be generous and good always and everywhere, not just when I feel like it. Make me your ambassador in this dark world, so that through me your light can conquer and illuminate many hearts.

Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will become aware of myself whenever I feel anger or resentment and consciously choose to respond to those feelings and to deal with them as you would want me to, instead of being their slave.

For Further Reflection: How to Help Someone Who Suffers from Severe Anger.

Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.

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