Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 19, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18 / Ps 103 / 1 Cor 3:16-23 / Mt 5:38-48
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Late one night, a cheerful truck driver pulled up to a roadside café for some refreshment. As he was eating, three wild-looking motorcyclists rode up to the café’s entrance. The atmosphere became tense as they walked in wearing dirty leather jackets and tattoos.
Immediately they picked out the truck driver as the target of their meanness. One poured salt and pepper into his coffee. Another took his apple pie, placed it on the floor, and squeezed it under his dirty boot. The third overturned his coffee, causing it to spill into his lap. The truck driver said not a word. He merely stood up, walked slowly to the cashier, calmly paid his check, and left.
“That guy isn’t much of a fighter, is he?” sneered one of the motorcyclists. The waiter behind the counter peered out into the night and replied, “Yeah, he doesn’t seem to be much of a driver either. He just ran his truck over three motorcycles.”
Brothers and sisters, in today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Offer no assistance to one who is evil.” (Mt 5:39). He is really a good teacher, because He goes on to give an example of what He means. He says, “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.”
During the time of Jesus, Roman soldiers controlled Palestine, and they had life and death power over Jewish citizens. In other words, Roman officers could commandeer Jewish citizens and could order them to carry some objects for a distance – one mile for example. In other words, as Christians, we are expected to do more, to do extra, to go beyond our human transactions.
The Code of Hammurabi that existed between 1793 and 1750 BC, expressed the law of retaliation which we heard a while ago, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” the very first verse of our gospel, Matthew 5:38, which was not a command to do violence, but to set limits on giving vengeance for an offense. The debtor must pay his debts, but the creditor must never ask for more than the amount involved. Payment for one’s misdeeds must be in the same measure – no more, no less. In other words, before Jesus Christ, this precept was a law of mercy.
For example, if one of your friends knocked out one of your teeth, you could retaliate by knocking out one of his. If someone struck you in the eye, you could return the strike, but no more than one eye. But Jesus did not like this law and presents a real challenge – love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
Why? It is because Christians are expected to do more. A bishop once said: To love those who you know as friends is not extra. To give to those who have given you in return is not more. To work because you are paid a salary is not beyond. To give in order to be given in return in the form of honor, praise, or promotion is not extra. All this – friendship, salary, honor, praise, and promotion, are ordinary human grounds of transactions. Everybody, even pagans and bad people, do this.
Jesus also adds to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt 5:44). Whether we like it or not, we like to return evil for evil. We are like a rubber band; you stretch it hard and once it snaps, it stings. Gandhi said that if we take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, then the world would be filled with blind and toothless people. In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, it is said that if the moneylender Shylock were to be allowed to cut a pound of flesh from the body of Antonio, who failed to repay him, what would become of us, but a walking bone.
The Divine Counsel, however, tells us to return good for evil. In fact, St. Paul reminds us to conquer evil by our good deeds.
Just like what a mother said to a priest after Mass, “Father, we were late for Mass because on our way to church, we were robbed inside the bus. There were six of us, and four young robbers pulled knives on us.” Expressing concern, the priest asked, “Are you all right? What can I do to be a help to you? Do you still have money for your fare back to your home?” She replied, “We are a bit shaken, but we are OK, Father. I was able to hide enough money for our fare.
“But I want to make a request. You see, I was touched by your gospel reflections about the man who was robbed, and a Good Samaritan came to help. If you really want to be of help, in your next Mass, please pray for the young men who held us up.” The priest was shocked because he was praying for kind and loving people most of the time, for sick persons, etc., but never in his life had the priest prayed for robbers. If he would not pray, who would pray for them?
What Jesus said is a challenge to all of us. But why do we have to love even our enemies and not hate them instead? It is because first and foremost it is extra and more. To love those who are not lovable, to give to those who cannot give in return, to serve those who cannot serve in return, and to forgive even our enemies.
The other reason is that we are created in the image and likeness of God. Our vocation as humans is to resemble our Father in Heaven.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.