“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
As a child hearing today’s Gospel, my attention always focused mistakenly on Christ’s line, “An eye for an eye . . .,” rather than its main point about loving our enemies. I remember an interminable safety lecture from Sr. John Michael Richie, S.L., our first grade teacher, before our excited class was allowed to first take sharpened pencils in hand. Though Sister’s warnings underscored the ghastly outcome should we injure ourselves or another, the prospect of losing one’s eye seemed remote. I thought: “People in the Old Testament actually took out people’s eyes?! Whew! No wonder Jesus had to say something!”
In truth, “an eye for an eye,” illustrated the “law of retaliation” in the code of the Ancient Near East. It was meant to keep retaliation in check and encourage just proportionate response to aggression. Even with this tempered understanding of the text, however, Jesus is not satisfied, and neither should we be. Jesus’ message reminds us we are called not to mere passivity when facing an adversary, but to loving action. On the eve of Lent, the Gospel counsels that in seeking understanding in disagreement, in extending mercy to one with whom we quarrel, lies the means of true “perfection.”
—Fr. William T. Sheahan, SJ, is a Jesuit of the Central and Southern Province and serves as rector of the Rockhurst Jesuit Community in Kansas City, MO.
Heavenly Father, you challenge me to love my enemies. I cannot love like this without your help. Unite me to your heart. Forgive me for labeling others an “enemy” simply out of disagreement or injured feelings. Expand my capacity for love and forgiveness. Grant me your compassion. Amen
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