Sunday of week 7 of Ordinary Time (C)

Commentary on 1 Samuel 26:2,7-9,12-13,22-23; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38

-Power that having money gives
-Power of being influential, having prestige
-Power of office
-Power of having access to the inside track, “friends” in high places
-Power of the blackmailer
-Power of bullying

In general it is seen as the ability to force people to do what I want.

However, the Gospel today speaks of another kind of power – the power of love and justice. In this power, both the giver and receiver benefit.

Hopelessly idealistic

At first sight, gospel seems downright silly, hopelessly idealistic. Jesus tells his disciples: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you…” But there is worse to come:

“To the one who slaps you on one cheek, give the other,

To the one who takes your cloak, give your tunic [the rest of your clothes],

Do not ask your property back from the robber.”

Surely this is not to be taken seriously. Are we to invite people to trample on our basic rights? In fact, far from being wimpish, the implementation of this teaching requires tremendous inner strength and a strong sense of security. It calls for an overwhelming awareness of the inalienable dignity, value and rights of every other person irrespective of how they behave.

Hitting back

For many, it seems perfectly natural and justifiable to hit back when struck – justly or unjustly. To give as good as you get when someone uses abusive language against you. In our “macho” world, you are only tough when, as in the movies, you are ready and able to hit back hard when abused, insulted or physically attacked. When the hero does it, it is even called “doing justice”. (But not when the ‘bad guy’ does it.)

In fact, it requires a great deal more strength and courage NOT to hit back, not because of fear but because by doing so one lowers oneself to the same level of one’s opponent. By hitting back, where was originally one act of violence, now there are two. Where does it end?

Let’s look at some examples of today’s Gospel in practice:

Today’s First Reading:
King Saul with 3,000 men went out to kill David but at night David and Abishai got into Saul’s camp. Saul was asleep with his spear beside him. “Now’s your chance,” Abishai said to David. But David refused to kill the king chosen and anointed by God. However, he does quietly remove the spear and a pitcher of water. When Saul woke he realised how close he had been to being killed by the man he wanted to kill. David had made his point. He respected the dignity of Saul, wicked though he was. In doing so he also revealed his own strength and greatness. And this is recognised by Saul. “Blessed be you, my son David,” says the king. “You will do many things and will succeed in them.” Hate in Saul turns to blessing. This is one of the desired effects of non-violence.

Jesus before the Sanhedrin:
When Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews, he was struck on the face by a soldier and accused of insolence. Jesus did not retaliate but simply asked, “If I have done something wrong, tell me; if not, why do you strike me?” He speaks calmly and with dignity, respecting the soldier’s dignity. It is a perfect example of active non-violence. Significantly, Jesus was not struck again. His restraint was seen for what it was: courage, not weakness.

In the whole of his Passion Jesus reveals his strength. He prayed for those battering him to death. “I have not come for the death of the sinner but that he may be converted and live.” Revenge wants to destroy. Love wants to restore life, truth, justice and right relationships between people.

Not so idealistic, not so difficult

What Jesus is saying is far from impossible or idealistic. It is really the only truly human, and not just the Christian, way to go. And, much of the time, it is not as difficult as it seems.

It is really a question of an attitude, a conviction. It is easy for the Christian to love enemies because the real Christian does not have any in the sense of people against whom he feels deep-seated hatred or resentments.

Jesus’ words presume that for the Christian there are no outsiders. It is easy to “love” those who “love us”, to love “our own kind”, “our own people”. But, as Jesus himself pointed out, even those who are evil may take care of their own. But we are called to be like God, of whom Jesus is the living, human image and in whose image we also are made: “God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” and “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Of course, there may be people who are hostile to the Christian. Being a fully-fledged Christian calls on one to love all but there is no guarantee of being loved by all in return. People wanted to kill Jesus and they did.

It is also important to know that “love” here does not mean being “in love” or even feeling affection or a liking for those who want to destroy us. Loving those out to get us is obviously not the same love I have for my closest friends. Love here means genuinely wanting the good, the well-being of the other person. I hate the evil, I denounce murder, bodily violence, sexual abuse, exploitation and manipulation but I am deeply concerned for the conversion, for the healing of the perpetrator.

We have no real right to sit in judgment on others. (And yet, how often do we do that every day with a cup of coffee in our hand?) “Forgive and you will be forgiven.” Can I forgive the murderer, the rapist, the abuser? But forgiveness in the Gospel is not just saying, “Forget it, let it pass, it’s no big deal.”

Forgiveness in the gospel always implies reconciliation, it involves bringing people together again and the healing of wounds but not the destruction of the wrongdoer. That is something very different. It can take time and a lot of effort and a lot of real concern for people.

Loving one’s enemies is not being soppy about them. Nor is it about peace at any price, not a question of projecting a gentle, loving image but a passion to restore justice, dignity and right relationships between people. How many wars, how many millions of deaths could have been avoided if we had followed this path? Like Jesus, there has to be a readiness to suffer and perhaps to lose much materially and socially.

Active non-violence involves campaigning, sticking one’s neck out, speaking out against injustice. At the same time, it always entails “speaking the truth in love”, seeking to heal, to save, to make whole but never to hurt or destroy.

Jesus is not offering us an option today but the only way that makes sense, the only way that is truly human. Jesus himself is our model. As he hangs naked, stripped of all dignity, the victim of unspeakable violence, this moment, contrary to all appearance, is the moment of his triumph, the triumph of love over hate, violence and murder.

It is a message our violence-ridden cultures desperately need to learn.

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