“Vengeance, Violence …Love, Holiness” by Fr. Joel Sulse, OFM

Browsing through my files while preparing my reflections for this Sunday, I asked to reprint this reflection of mine about Mt. 5:38-38. Paving our way to the road of the Lenten season, I feel that the thoughts here will help focus ourselves with the beauty of the Law and human relationships. It goes with the rewards that await us if we just anchor ourselves into the ways of God.

Injury is the force why people and nations cause harm and inflict pain on one another. A person may look physically all right but injury may have piled-up from within. Down through the years, a person may have tolerated it but the pain still remains. How can one overcome this? And what is the better option?

Judaism tries to moderate all forms of vengeance. It teaches one not to hate an enemy but to love one’s neighbor. Matthew affirms this in Jesus dismissing the Jewish teaching as narrow legalism. Jesus raised it to a higher degree of understanding introducing the Law of Love.

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”(v.38) This implies that punishment cannot exceed the injury done. God’s purpose actually is to show mercy and not to injure. Thus, Jesus pacifies their thoughts by giving them the guidance they need – not to retaliate nor seek vengeance but to go out of our way to forgive. This is not easy but the price is worth the heavens.

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other. (v. 39) As a follower of Jesus, we were taught on how we can maintain our composure in front of a trial. He taught us not to be vengeful, nor to hold a grudge against a person, but to forgive. A slap in the face may mean criticism, insult, abuse, malice of any kind, threat, rumor, even physical and verbal abuse. Again, to forgive is the way to reach the heavens.

If someone takes your tunic, give your cloak. (v. 40) This is about “property injury.” As followers of Jesus, He advised us not to be consumed with fighting over property and rights. He knows very well that we cannot take them to our deathbed, nor to the heavens. He wants us to forget self and our property rights and focus on how we can attain our own salvation and the salvation of others. The more therefore that we give our property for the greater glory of God in service to others most especially the less fortunate, the more that He will open His door for us accompanying us to a reserved room for us in the heavens.

Forced to go one mile? Go with him two miles. (v.41) Remember Simeon of Cyrene in Mt. 7:32? Jesus is telling us that we should rather preoccupy ourselves in relieving others of their burdens. If we are therefore the criticizing and the complaining type, or the bitter and the resentful type, or the begrudging and the self-pitying type, then we have to do something and really ask ourselves, “Do I have the original nature of a good person created in God’s image and likeness?”

Give… and do not turn away.(v.42) Christian charity is a very good virtue rooted in Jesus himself who gave His life as a ransom for many. This is the highly valued Christian ethic, that we need to help those who are in need, and we really have to help. Is my help tied up with some other motivations? Am I trumpeting to the world what I have given? Is the help coming from within the very core of my inmost being? Am I really eager to give, even the most valued possession all for the glory of God? Am I tied up with the thought that I don’t want my family to experience hunger in the end? God knows more than we do. But the greatest consolation is “heaven is our reward!”

Love your neighbor…love your enemies and pray…(v.43-44) The fatal mistake committed by Israel is to interpret “neighbors” to only be their friends and those close to them. Another mistake is to “hate their enemies.” Jesus steered them to the right understanding of the Law- “TO LOVE.” Loving one’s enemy is against human nature because our tendency is to react and strike back. Jesus wants to take away that bitterness in us and preserve our heart to be like His. He wants us to recognize the side of compassion and mercy, His Spirit of love expressed in accepting the person for who he/she is. Prayer is of great help if we want a person to change into God’s image of love. We need to accompany them and bring them with us to heaven.

Be perfect as your Father is perfect. (V.48) Following the holy precepts of Jesus and His divine guidance on how we can live the fullness of life in accordance with His will, we will surely be transformed into his perfect image. Following Him consistently in our life will bring us the fulfillment we aspire for -HEAVEN. Perfection is fulfilling the commandment to love, for GOD IS LOVE.

On our roads leading into this coming season of Lent, let the holiness from deep within us burst forth!

About Fr. Joel and his reflections