Called to reflect not react – Monday, 11th week in ordinary time – Matthew 5:38-42
The methods that Jesus proposed were radical to say the least. Even nature reacts when provoked. Don’t poke an angry bear is not just a passing thought but the experience of one who has borne the consequences of such stupidity. It is in our very nature to strike back. Yet Jesus came to ‘nurture’ this untamed nature of ours.
What does retaliation really get us but more pain and anger? The cycle of hate that Jesus came to challenge and transform was demonstrated on the cross. What he preached on the mount here in chapter five he practiced on Mount Calvary when he said, “forgive them father, they know not what they do.”
Jesus has been teaching what it means to be a disciple. So far, every word from his mouth seemed shocking, not because he was saying something blasphemous but because the core of his teachings stemmed from the transformation of every person; something that the Jewish Rabbis did not entirely subscribe to as they placed their laws and traditions over the human person.
The teachings of Jesus have been misinterpreted by many as a call to be ‘a doormat’. That would be a very poor and misinformed way of looking at the scriptures. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth was the law of the ancient near east. It was adopted by cultures across the spectrum as a way of limiting revenge proportionately and not encouraging it.
Jesus acknowledges that evil and its agents (evil doers) exist. In saying this he is addressing and acknowledging that humankind expresses itself in evil and perhaps even unjust way. The Christian disciple is called not to react but to reflect the love of God to the evil doer and is called to do this by gently shaming the attacker with non-violence.
Jesus sites three examples of hate and injustice in his day that usually would have met with varied violent responses. To be slapped in the face was a form of disrespect, especially with the backhand. For Jesus, offering the other cheek was a subtle way in shaming the person who attacked you. At the heart of this action is the desire to reconcile. You can’t reconcile when you seek revenge. Freely offered, the turning of the other cheek works both ways; it humbles the attacker and cools the desire for revenge.
Jesus then gives the second example of nonviolent Christian resistance that guarantees a moral victory. A matter as insignificant as a coat has become a judicial dispute. Clearly the greed of the human person can reach the lowest limits. To such a person, Jesus advocates giving the cloak as well. The cloak was inner wear and removing it would embarrass the greed of the person, right there, in the middle of the courtroom. It would make for sensational headlines the next morning!
Finally, drawing from a Persian loanword, angareuein meaning, to compel, He highlights the image of the ‘pony service’ used by the Greco- Roman world in which men were forcibly conscripted to assist in any service demanded by the Romans. This was used as a tool of control over the colonized nation. Remember Simon of Cyrene who was compelled to carry the cross of Jesus?
Jesus wants the disciple to give more, be more, and do more. Difficult, yes but not impossible! The invitation of Jesus to His disciples could well be summarized in an ad campaign run Pepsi, in India, a few years ago. The line ran. ‘yeh dil maange more’. Translated it simply means, this heart asks for more. This is what the Lord wanted from our hearts; this is discipleship.