February 19, 2017
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
[Jesus said to his disciples:] 38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. 40 If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. 41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? 48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Today’s gospel follows on the text from last week’s Gospel. It is part of the much larger instruction that Jesus gave to his disciples known as the Sermon on the Mount, which began with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3). The structure of Jesus’ teaching is the same as last week. He starts with a statement that is familiar from the tradition, and then he elaborates on his understanding of how that teaching should be lived by his disciples.
This group of teachings began with Jesus’ statement: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17) It appears that Jesus is responding to those who questioned his faithfulness to their traditions. His response here, and last week, is that he is not contradicting the tradition that has been handed down, but rather his teaching is a deepening of the attitude that lies beneath that tradition.
The familiar injunction “an eye for eye” that Jesus quotes in verse 38 was not meant as a sanction on revenge, but instead to limit what people who felt wronged or humiliated would do to retaliate. Jesus’ teaching surpasses just limiting acts of violence. He tells his disciples to replace a spirit of resentment with a spirit of generosity. To appreciate how radical Jesus’ teaching is, it would be helpful to understand the culture of Jesus’ time.
The Jews of the day lived under Roman rule. To go to court with a countryman was an embarrassment because they were submitting to the authority of their occupiers. Jesus makes his point even more dramatic by using a person’s coat and tunic for the matter to be disputed. A person’s coat was not only an essential piece of clothing, but it also served as a blanket or sleeping bag at night. If a person offered a coat when they had nothing else to offer as collateral in a promise, that coat had to be returned before nightfall so that the person had something to keep him warm at night. When Jesus suggests that if someone has the audacity to ask for a person’s tunic, they should give him their coat as well, he implies they would be left standing before them naked, without protection and under the weight of cultural norms that said that you did not behave toward another in this manner.
The other example Jesus uses in his teaching against retaliation is that of a soldier, who could demand that a citizen carry his armor for a mile. The typical soldier was a fellow Israelite who had sold his services to Rome as a mercenary. He could ask a civilian of the day to carry his heavy pack of armor for one mile, but no more. To carry the armor of a fellow Jew who was now serving Rome was humiliating. Everyone knew that—the mercenary, the person forced into service, and all those who witnessed it. But to then volunteer to carry the pack of armor a second mile throws the system of power and shame out of balance. The soldier loses his ability to bully another, and receives a freely given act of service by a fellow countryman who is treating him with respect and not as a hated mercenary.
On the surface, Jesus may seem to be advocating that his disciples accept passively their fate, even if they find themselves the victim of an injustice by a person or a system. Such a reading of this text proves to be a bit naïve.
1. Do you have memories of being publicly offended? What kind of feelings arise within you as you think of those incidents?
2. How seriously do you think Jesus expected his disciples to take these teachings? Is there a difference between seriously and literally?
3. Why would Jesus instruct his disciples to act in ways that very few if any could succeed in living?
4. How seriously do you take these teachings? How does that get expressed in the choices you make?
5. What effect does hardship and suffering have on you? Has hardship and suffering ever led to a transformation within you?
6. As you hear Jesus’ instruction to his disciples, what feelings arise within you?
7. If you could pull Jesus aside, what would you like to say to him about his teaching here in this gospel?
On Wednesday of each week, the Gospel and reflection questions
for the upcoming Sunday are posted at the following link: http://il-ritiro.org/gospel-reflections.aspx. You are invited to share your own reflection and comments with others at this website.
The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To be added to the distribution list, send your name and email address to email@example.com.
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Excerpts from the readings for February 19, 2017, the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.
"You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord."
The Lord is kind and merciful.
Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name; forget not all his benefits.
He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion.
Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he requite us according to our crimes.
As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.
If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise.
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written:
God catches the wise in their own ruses,
and again: The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you,
Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future:
all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.
Jesus said to his disciples: "You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
"You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
If you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Excerpts from Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10-13; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48