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It is in scriptural passages as we have today that we recognize the dignity of all human beings as created in the image of God; and the call for us to be holy as God is holy as the basis for the moral and ethical teachings of the Church.
In the provocative message of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asks us to surrender our own will to the will of God, and to love as God loves.
Now don’t be discouraged and think that we cannot possibly do this. Even Jesus’ own disciples James and John had to grow into the image of Christ.
Recall the account from Luke chapter 9 when after Jesus had preached in a particular Samaritan village, the people rejected his message because Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem – so they told him to leave.
Well, James and John approach the Lord with this humble request, “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven to consume them?” these ungrateful Samaritans? What?!
Jesus turns and rebukes the disciples for such a thought. Up until then he had only been rebuking the demons!
So we see that even those who walked with and followed Our Lord had to grow spiritually.
For Jesus, love though is willing the good of the other. Love is not interested in the response of the one loved. Love does not love in order to get a return. Because God has loved us, we are called to love as God loves. This is radical love. Love for one’s enemy is the greatest testament to love.
How many people – good Christians – do you hear arguing for the eye for an eye justice, when they should be following Christ, and recognize that it was Jesus who called us beyond mere revenge justice to forgiveness.
When he states: “Offer no resistance to the one who is evil” – this is more accurately translated: “Offer no retaliation in response to one who is evil.”
While Jesus rejects the entire notion of retaliation, he does calls us to respond – but it is a non-retaliatory response – a response of positive good in the face of evil.
To turn the other cheek, to offer the other cheek is an act of love. It is not a normal human reaction! And because it isn’t normal, it is intended to challenge the aggressor by grace rather than by retaliation.
What this does is expose the aggressiveness of the aggressor, exposes the audacity and the violence of the other, in order to allow him to see his evil, and repent.
The law of turning the other cheek does not mean that Christians are to turn a blind eye on abusive situations or fail to work for a more just society.
On the contrary, it means that we are to imitate Christ who, in his personal life, gave up the right to get even while at the same time condemning all forms of abuse or exploitation of the weak and vulnerable.
Saint Peter in his first epistle writes of Jesus:
In the second reading from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he called the members of the church to recognize their identity as the church, “the Temple of God.” We know this in a special way when we receive our Lord Jesus in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
In this same letter Paul is adamant that the Corinthians as members of the church “ought to know that as baptized members of Christ, their bodies are temples of God.”
He writes: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? …avoid immorality…Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is within you….and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”
So we clearly hear that to be a Christian means that we give all to Christ, yes even our bodies, as we cannot even claim them as our own.
And then we must also recognize that we have surrendered our own will to the will of Christ. We can’t hold back certain rights “we have to be all in, fully committed, no half-measure, no half-hearted commitments.
Either we are Christ’s or we are not. Either we worship God with all of our body (Rom 12) or we are holding back something from Christ.
St. Paul wrote: “ I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God….”
Why did Paul write this letter in the first place? Were there some Christians who still questioned the human dignity of every person? Perhaps so because Paul uses very strong language – writing that whoever would destroy God will destroy the person who destroys God’s temple, the human person.
Paul challenges the worldly wisdom of his day.
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God: In Proverbs we read, "There are ways which seem right, but the ends of them plunge into the depths of hell" (Prov. 16:25).
There is also an account in Mark’s gospel where Jesus is being tested, and so he asks: “Is it lawful to do good or do evil…to save life or to destroy life?” They refused to answer him. Jesus looked at them with anger and was grieved at their hardness of heart. (Mark 3.1-6).
How hardened has our culture become where the poor and vulnerable are regarded as an enemy?
Unfortunately today even the unborn child has come to be viewed as the enemy, an enemy to freedom, an inconvenience, and as such, it can be eliminated.
And with genetic engineering, “designer babies” are now possible, children with Down’s syndrome are routinely aborted, gender-selection abortions are common - the majority of which are against unborn females, and the unborn child is considered an enemy to our culture’s mad obsession with sexual promiscuity.
So if we aren’t even loving those we should be most naturally and intuitively inclined to love, then is it any wonder we cannot love our enemies whom we do see?
Jesus’ was insistent that “Whoever receives one child in my name receives me…see that you do not despise one of these little ones…in just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.”
For Jesus himself was conceived in his mother’s womb.
Let us return to the gospel. At the Last Judgment, Christ said we will be judged by how well we loved one another, especially the most vulnerable: “Whatsoever you do to the least of these, that you do unto me” (Matt. 25.40)
When JESUS died upon the Cross, he disrupted and interrupted the world’s escalating violence that was displayed against him in the Crucifixion.
Jesus stretches his arms on the cross and absorbs all of the world’s violence and does not retaliate. He robs the violent of their strength and energy.
This week, many of us have seen the images of the political turmoil in the Ukraine and the priests in the heart of independence square keeping vigil in prayer; the sheer sight of the priests in their cassocks and stoles braving the elements, and the bullets and bombs, carrying their holy books, icons of Mary and Jesus and other saints, bearing the cross and chanting and praying for the dead was inspiring.
One priest placed himself between the frustrated mobs and the armed soldiers; urging calm, holding up a cross while one of the soldiers took aim at him. Yet he stood firm, directly in the line of fire, a radical act of non-violence that caused the world to hold its breath as violence was robbed of its power.
The priests prayed and sang the Paschal chant: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”
This is the brave face of turning the other cheek.
This is the face of love.
This is holiness.
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
TO LOVE AS GOD LOVES Deacon John William McMullen
23 February 2014
Christ the King & Holy Spirit Parishes, Evansville, Indiana.