Today is the last Sunday before Lent. We continue to hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Here is a brief overview of what we’ve heard so far:
* The Beatitudes
* The Call to be Salt and Light
* Teachings about law, anger, adultery, divorce and oaths
Today we hear Jesus’ teaching on retaliation and love of enemies. The reading contains two well known phrases: “an eye for an eye” and “turn the other cheek”.
“An eye for an eye” is often spoken by someone seeking retribution and is often followed by “It’s in the Bible!”
While the words are found in Exodus chapter 21, the underlying message may leave those who utilize it unsatisfied. The roots of “an eye for an eye” are from Babylonian law. (Just google “The Code of Hammurabi”). Exodus cites the concept in an effort to limit retribution so that it is not greater than the offense. In other words no more than an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth.
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus goes beyond retribution and instructs his disciples to turn the other cheek. Is Jesus telling us to be like the punching bag used by a boxer? Absorb the blow and bounce back to receive the next? I don’t think so. I hear Jesus telling us to insert one thing - love.
As the song says “Love Changes Everything” even the math of the aforementioned equations. By adding love an eye taken from the offender fails to make up for an eye lost by the one who has been offended.
In the 4rd verse today’s offertory song, “Love Goes On” (#471) Bernadette Farrell writes the following: Though our faith may move mountains, love alone can heal the broken; only love will make us whole. The song is based on 1 Corinthians 13 - the big marriage reading AND John 13 where Jesus washes the disciples feet.
Blest to be in ministry with you at St. Mary’s,
As I wrote this article I reflected on how the concepts of eye for an eye and turning the other cheek play out in my own experience.
Perhaps the following might resonate with you:
For me these terms do not take on a literal or physical nature. Instead, they are connected with something more powerful - words.
Words can be used to retaliate (an eye for an eye) and attack (not turning the other cheek).
Someone once told me “you’re good with words”. They are correct. I’m good when I have time to think and craft a response and I’m good with the quick retort. I’m not proud to say that I practice this cfrequently.
On the other hand, there have been several occasions lately where I have “bit my tongue” rather than placed it firmly in cheek and returned sarcasm with sarcasm.
Ironically, the good feelings from these non-responses have lasted longer than the relief from the alternative. I can only guess the effect on the other person.
Just something to think about.
“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”