BILINGUAL REFLECTIONS FOR SUNDAY
Seventh Sunday O. T. (A) Matthew 5: 38-48 - February 19, 2017
“Whoever keeps the word of Christ, the love of God is truly perfect in him”.
Once, in a country where death penalty exists, a murderer was condemned to the capital punishment. The warden left the death chamber and walked through the jail. A convict from across the aisle shouted, "Who is the murderer now?" We know that among those who support capital punishment, there is a high percentage of them who seek revenge for deeds done by the criminals. The very well known law of “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” belongs to the Hammurabi Code and it was not as bad as we think today. According to William Barclay, Hammurabi lived 2300 years before Christ. It was prescribed to limit revenge; before its existence, if someone would kill a person, his family and friends could kill not only the murderer, but also his whole tribe. Hammurabi says, “The only one to be punished is the perpetrator. His punishment is to be no heavier than the wrong he committed”.
In last Sunday Gospel we heard Jesus citing the Scriptures four times, and adding, "But I say to you..." He goes beyond the demands of the law, to perfect it, and then tells his followers to avoid unnecessary oaths, divorce, anger and lust. The original Hammurabi’s code, Jesus quotes in today’s Gospel, was only a call for moderation. But Jesus goes beyond moderation. "I say to you, offer no resistance to the one who is evil." He tells us that if someone strikes one's cheek, we should turn the other as well. This saying could be misinterpreted. It has caused people to accept an abusive situation. Do you remember what Jesus himself did when the temple guard slapped him? Jesus did not strike back, but he asked, "Why did you hit me?" (Jn 18:23)
When someone abuses us physically or verbally, the automatic response is to hit back. But Jesus shows us a different way: take a deep breath, then ask, "Why did strike me?" The other person often hopes for a fight to justify his aggression. He fears the simple question, "why?" especially if he has to answer it before an authority.
When Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," we need to understand the word "love." Greek has three words for love: First, eros, which is the love involved in attraction, and it is passionate. Then, philia, the love involved in friendship. And agape, which can be defined as "invincible goodwill." Eros is based on feelings, philia on having something in common, but agape involves a deliberate act of the will. When Jesus says to love our enemies, he does not use the words "eros" or "philia," but agape. Love is a choice, a decision. In the New Testament agape is often translated into English as charity.
To always love our enemies, to wish the best for those who deliberately harm us, to pray for those who make our life miserable, requires grace. God does not love us because we are good, or because we deserve his love, but that his love enables us to attain goodness. We cannot achieve that love on our own power, but only by his grace.
There is a story about a reporter who visited a leper hospital run by some Religious Sisters of Charity in a developing country. There he saw a young sister bathing the badly infected wounds of a leprous patient. He was shock to look at the terrible wounds and said to the sister, ‘I wouldn’t do that for a million pounds!” She simply replied, “Neither would I.”