Year A: Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
Mt 5: 38 – 48
Prayer before praying Scripture
May we the children of God, take the Word of God, into the presence of God and allow the Spirit of God, to make the Word come alive in us.
Instead of going straight to this Sunday’s gospel we will take a brief look at where it is placed by Matthew. Open your Bible at the beginning of chapter five. The opening verse is, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying.” Matthew signals that a very important teaching is to follow, when he uses “went up the mountain” which is another way of saying that everybody went into the presence of God. “He sat down” places him in the teaching position, the position of authority assumed by a wise and experienced rabbi. The “Sermon on the Mount” follows.
Our text comes from a section in which Jesus gives five major teachings to us, his disciples. Each one begins with, “You have heard that it was said, … but I say to you.” Bible in hand, let’s identify each of the ideals put before us.
Verse 5: 21 – 22 is all about anger and how we handle it.
Verse 27 – 32 speaks about our approach to living out our sexuality.
We are told quite bluntly to tell the truth. (33 – 36)
Today’s reading makes up teachings four and five.
Time now to read Mt 5: 38 – 48
What is your initial reaction to “offer the wicked man no resistance”? Jesus, are you serious? That may be a wonderful ideal but really it is not true to life. Read the text once more to see how many other ‘impossible’ ideals Jesus is suggesting.
I am sure you have found quite a number. Jesus had his feet firmly on the ground and he certainly would not have suggested the impossible. In his own behaviour he did not live out, “offer the wicked man no resistance.” Again and again he challenged the wrong-doings of people.
“Look out, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. Beware of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (16: 6, 12)
“See your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” If you knew what is meant by, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” (12: 2b, 7)
He defends the woman who anointed his with perfumed oil. “Why do you make trouble for this woman?” (26: 6 – 10)
Jesus fourth teaching (the first in our text) is all about BREAKING THE CYCLE OF VIOLENCE.
“An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” (Ex 21: 24) sounds pretty terrible to our ears. However it was there to limit the never ending feuds and revenge for wrongs done. The examples given by Jesus offer us non-violent strategies to bring peace between people.
One uses the right hand to strike an opponent. The ultimate insult is to use the back of one’s hand, striking the right cheek. In responding by turning the other cheek one makes it impossible for the striker to hit the right cheek and repeat the insult.
Somebody takes you to court and you have to hand over your tunic. By giving your cloak as well you are now stark naked. In the scriptures it is the person who looks at a naked person who is shamed. The aggressor is shamed into change their behaviour.
A Roman soldier could by law force somebody to carry his kit for one mile. By going a second mile with him, he finds himself on the wrong side of the law and in danger of being disciplined. He will certainly be much more careful the next time he ‘asks’ somebody to carry his burden.
“42Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.” Here we have a real puzzle. I think this can be best understood in the context of ‘Breaking the cycle of violence.’ Poverty does violence to the human spirit. We are not being asked to eradicate poverty. We are, however, being challenged to do all in our power to ensure that we do not add to people’s distressing financial circumstances. Think of the employer who is forced to retrench employees, however he does all he can to get them alternate work.
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Leviticus 19: 18 says “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Nowhere do we find ‘hate your enemy.’ Somebody slipped this in. Jesus objects!
‘Love your enemies’ really seems to be going a step too far. However, we are then encouraged to be ‘children of our Father in Heaven.’ Children resemble their parents and we too are called to resemble our God. Our God is committed to our liberation from all that is evil. He remains ever faithful to this commitment regardless of how we behave. Surely this final teaching can be summed up, “DO GOOD.”
48You must be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
A better translation would be, 48You must be compassionate just as your heavenly Father is compassionate.
Look to Jesus’ life.
A woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on his head while he was reclining at table. The disciples said, “Why this waste?” Jesus replied, “Why do you make trouble for this woman? Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be spoken of.” (26: 6 – 13)