Jesus said to the crowds, ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 'You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
Again, today’s Gospel deserves to be read slowly and contemplatively. It is to be understood not literarily but spiritually. It is only through slow reading that we can be touched by Jesus. Be aware how and where I am touched by Jesus in the slow reading.
The key message hidden in the Gospel is “don’t follow the crowd!” This is particular relevant for us today because we wrongly believe that being democratic is following the crowd. This distorted belief is put forward by those who have vested interest in our lives. Take globalization as an example. We are told that globalization is the only way of economic development. If we slow down and think deeper, we will find that globalization is only one option of economic development, not the only way.
Such distorted belief also happened in Jesus’ time. Thus, Jesus pointed out at the beginning of today’s Gospel, “You have heard that it was said…” He referred to what people general believed what was just and righteous. For them, it was just “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”; and it was right that “you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy”.
It seems nothing wrong with both notions. However, Jesus realizes that such notions, which are based simply on how others treat us, keep us in captivity. Jesus wants to set us free from such knee jerk reaction to others. He invites us not to resist to evildoers, to give more than demanded, and to entertain any request. These invitations really sound hard to us. We are accustomed to so-called “fairness”, “justice”, and “rights”.
However, if we look deeper as invited by Jesus, we would find out why people hate, what they think about their demands and requests. Is not that their hatred is an expression of their notion of “justice”? Is not that they believe their demands and requests are “fair”? Am I not doing the same thing as they do?
Having realized that I am just one of them, who also steep in the prevailing culture and values, how can I get out from the current? Here, Jesus invites us to go further with the saying, “you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy”, which is not only to love your neighbour but also your enemy.
How this can be achieved? Jesus offers us three ways. The first is to pray for our enemies and people who persecute us. It is very hard. But if we want to be daughters and sons of our Father in heaven, we should be like Him, whose rain falls on all alike. Next, we should love them as our own brothers and sisters. Finally, we should be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Jesus reminds us that our model on earth is our Father in heaven. That is exactly the same message that he proclaimed at the beginning of his public ministry, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near (Matthew 3.2).” Amen.