Share This Post


7th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Turning the other cheek…

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Turning the other cheek…

This Sunday’s Readings include some of the
best known—and hardest to practice—passages from the Gospel, including Jesus
famous command to “turn the other cheek.”  Biblical scholarship can only
go so far in elucidating some of Jesus’ challenging commands; beyond that, we
need the saints. 

1.  Our Readings start off showing the
continuity between Jesus’ teachings and the Old Testament, quoting a section
from Leviticus (19:1-2, 17-18):

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 Book of Leviticus is the heart of the
Pentateuch from the point of view of literary structure.  It is typically
the first book of the Bible used in teaching Hebrew to Jewish boys, and its
system of cleanliness and holiness is the basis for the religious lifestyle of
observant Jews to the modern day.  Although much of the legislation of the
book is not binding on Christians in the New Covenant, nonetheless the concepts
of sacrifice, priesthood, cleanliness, and holiness embodied in the rituals and
norms of this book are the matrix on and from which the New Testament describes
the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and are absolutely essential for
understanding His salvific work and that of his Church.

The name Leviticus derives from the
Greek leuitikos, an adjective meaning “pertaining to the Levites,”
because the book was perceived as primarily concerned with cultic regulations
for the Levitical priests.  However, it should be noted that the majority
of textual units in Leviticus address the Israelite laity.  The Hebrew
name for the book is wayyiqra, “And he called …” which is the first word
of the book, describing the LORD’s call to Moses from the newly-erected

Prior to the grant of the
covenant at Sinai, God promised that obedience to the covenant would result in
Israel becoming a “royal priesthood” and “holy nation.”  Every Israelite,
therefore, was called to be “holy,” that is, associated with the presence of God. 
Of course, there are gradations of holiness, and the same standards of holiness
were not imposed on the common Israelite as on the priesthood, which was more
closely associated with God’s presence in the sanctuary.

Because of the difficulty in explaining how
the laws and rituals of Leviticus (which is actually the second Sinai covenant,
renewed after the calf) continue to apply in the New Covenant, Leviticus is the
least-read Pentateuchal book in the Lectionary—one of the least-read of the
entire canon.  Only two readings from Leviticus are found on Sundays or
Feast Days.  An excerpt from the laws of leprousy (Lev 13:1-2, 44-46) is
read on the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Cycle B, where it provides the
background for the Gospel Reading of the cleansing of the leprous man, Mark
1:40-45.  This Sunday’s Reading is the only other Sunday lection from this

Leviticus 17–25, often called
(with ch. 26) the “Holiness Code” by scholars, lays out the behaviors necessary
for Israel to maintain their status as a “holy” people.  Therefore they
must abstain from the following “profaning” behaviors: sacrifice to demons
(17:1-9), the eating of blood (17:10-16), incestuous or perverted sexual
intercourse (ch. 18), and any immoral, unjust, or occult practice (ch. 19). 
Violations of these rules must be subject to civil sanctions (ch. 20). 
These same standards are even more stringent for priests (chs. 21-22), since
they handle the holy things of the LORD directly.

Today’s Reading forbids hatred, revenge, or
grudges between members of the Israelite people.  “Bear no hatred for your
brother,” (“sister” is not in the Hebrew, but the intent is not
gender-specific) and “love your neighbor as yourself,” are challenging
commands, but they are limited in their extent to fellow Israelites (i.e.
“neighbors” and “brothers”).  In the movement from the First Reading to
the Gospel we can see a kind of opening-up or universalizing of the sacred laws
of Israel. In the Gospel, Jesus expands the kind of loving relationship that God
commanded between individual Israelites to include all human beings. 
Israel had been a “laboratory” or “exercise room” where the law of love was put
into practice first, in a constrained environment.  With the coming of the
Christ, however, it is time for the expansion of the principle and practice to
all humanity.

2.  The Responsorial Psalm is Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13:

R/ (8a) The Lord is kind and merciful.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R/ The Lord is kind and merciful.
He pardons all your iniquities,
heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
crowns you with kindness and compassion.
R/ The Lord is kind and merciful.
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.
R/ The Lord is kind and merciful.
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.
R/ The Lord is kind and merciful.

The key concept emphasized in both the First
Reading and the Psalm is imitatio Dei, the imitation of God as the
principle of human morality.  We are not to practice hatred, grudges, or
vengeance, because God is not hateful, bitter, or vengeful.  “Be holy, for
I am holy.”  Holiness does not mean merely moral goodness, but a status of
being set apart and associated with divinity.  Holy persons are not merely
virtuous, but have at least a touch of the supernatural and transcendent about
them.  Nonetheless, holiness entails and requires moral virtue—and not simply
justice, but something more.  God does not judge according to strict
justice, but punishes far less than is deserved, and forgives far more than we

Psalm 103 comes from a much different stage
of Israel’s history than Leviticus 19.  If Leviticus represents the laws
of Moses, Psalm 103 is a reflection on Israel’s history attributed to
David.  Reflecting on all the ways Israel had offended God, and yet God’s
goodness shown toward Israel by bringing them out of Egypt, delivering them
from their enemies the Midianites, Moabites, and Philistines; and giving them
signs of his presence and compassion—David praises God for his compassion
(rahûm, a noun related to the mother’s womb), his graciousness (hanûn,
from the root han, “grace” or “favor”), and his kindness (hesed,
lit. “covenant love or fidelity”).  God’s character becomes the basis for
His people’s culture.

3. The Second Reading is 1 Cor 3:16-23:

Brothers and sisters:
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.

Let no one deceive himself.
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.

In light of the Gospel for today, the Second
Reading takes on a peculiar significance.

St. Paul begins by stressing to the
Corinthians that they are the “Temple of God,” and therefore share in his
holiness, picking up a theme from the First Reading.  Corinth was a city
filled with pagan temples, especially the massive temple of Venus/Aphrodite,
which was a major “tourist attraction” due to the sensual way that hundreds of “priestesses” helped male patrons “worship” the goddess in
little side rooms around the main sanctuary.  By contrast, throughout the
Corinthian correspondence, St. Paul stresses (both explicitly and implicitly)
that the church is the true Temple of God, in contrast to the debased worship
buildings of the pagans.

Next, St. Paul reminds the Corinthians that
the wisdom of God seems foolish to the world, and the world’s wisdom seems
foolish to God.  This is helpful to keep in mind as we ponder Jesus’
commands in the Gospel: “What sense does it make to turn the other cheek? 
Shouldn’t the evil person be opposed? How can enemies be loved?”  These
are questions that naturally arise when we are confronted with divine wisdom,
the Gospel.  But the logic of God takes place on a different plane than
that of this world.  Following Jesus means leaping above human logic and
living an other-worldly life.

Finally, St. Paul reminds the Corinthians
that “everything belongs to you.”  In Christ, the whole universe belongs
to us, because we will enjoy it and share it with Christ forever in the world
to come.  Christians are spiritually “rich.”  This assurance of our
true riches gives us the freedom to part easily with temporary wealth in the
here and now.  Thus, we can “give to those who ask of us” and “lend to the
one who wants to borrow,” because we know we possess true wealth that lies
elsewhere and can never be taken away.

4.  The Gospel is Mt 5:38-48:

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.
For 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.”

This Sunday we read the last two of the “Six
Antitheses,” the six statements of Jesus following the form, “You have heard it
said … but I say to you ….”  (Matt 5:21-48).  Last week we saw the
Antitheses concerned with murder (vv. 21-26), adultery (vv. 27-30), divorce
(vv. 31-32), and swearing (vv. 33-37).  This Sunday we deal with vengeance
(vv. 38-42) and hatred of enemies (vv. 43-48).

In these Antitheses, Jesus presumes to
correct not only the common interpretation of the Law of Moses, but sometimes
the Law of Moses itself.  It is difficult to exaggerate the incredible
shock that would be felt by Jesus’ contemporary Jewish audience in hearing him
teach in this way.  In some strains of Judaism, Moses was considered
almost divine.  There was no one above Moses but God himself: no
subsequent prophet was ever Moses’ equal (Deut 34:10-12).  In short, the
way Jesus teaches amounts to an implicit assertion of his divinity.  Jesus
says things that only God has the authority to pronounce.

Jesus begins with quoting the Mosaic standard
for court justice: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  That is,
a judge should limit the punishment of an offender to the amount of harm he

We observe that this law of Moses was itself
an act of mercy in limiting punishments.  Human instinct is to punish the
evil doer with more punishment than he inflicted.  And with good reason: if
a man destroys the eye of another man, and his own eye is put out as
punishment, both perpetrator and victim end up with one eye.  But is that
fair that their fates should be the same?  The victim did nothing wrong,
the perpetrator did vile evil.  So shouldn’t, perhaps, the perpetrator
have both eyes put out, so that his fate is worse than his victim? 
So we see it is not illogical to return more upon the head of the evil
doer than he did to the other.

But the Law of Moses was lenient, and did not
punish with full vengeance.  The recompense was limited to the amount of
evil done.

It must be remembered, too, that Moses’ law
(the lex talionis) was a guide for courtroom decisions, not for personal
morality.  In time, however, the lex talionis was interpreted as
justification for vigilante action or personal grudge-settling between
individuals.  “Do to others as they do to you.”

Jesus calls his disciples to transcend these
attempts to “settle scores” with those who harm us.  He counsels us to
offer no resistance, and to give more than is even asked for by those who want
something from us.

Jesus’ teaching raises many questions. 
“Should not the evil man be resisted?  Should we just let a crazed gunman
run into a school and shoot little kids up without doing anything?  Should
we let burglars kill us and take our goods if confronted with a home invasion?”

Actually, no.  There is a place and even
an obligation for self-defense in the Christian life, and the Catechism
discusses it clearly in the section dealing with the fifth commandment
(§2263-2267).  Thus, one actually has a grave moral obligation to do
anything necessary—up to lethal force—to stop a crazed gunmen headed toward
little kids. 

But the examples Jesus’ cites are not of
threats to one’s life.  He does not say, “Someone chops off your hand,
offer him your other, too,” or “If someone runs at you with a spear, stick out
your chest so he can run you through.”

The examples Jesus cites are of insults and
claims on one’s property.  “Striking on the right cheek” would be a
back-handed slap from a right-handed person.  That is, an insult, not an
immediate threat to life.  Suing for one’s cloak, and insisting on a mile
of travel, are impositions on one’s goods and time, respectively.  So it is
too much to interpret Jesus as forbidding all self-defense or any use of
force.  Jesus himself used force in the cleansing of the Temple (2:15-16),
showing that there is a place in the Christian life for righteous indignation.

But in today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us as his
disciples to bear with insults, and to be generous in the distribution of our
goods and the sharing of our time.  Jesus is not worried that we will be
reduced to poverty by giving away even our clothing, because “Blessed are the
poor in spirit” (i.e. those who are poor for spiritual reasons) and God will
clothe and feed those who “seek first the kingdom of God” (6:25-33).

When Jesus says, “you heard it said, ‘Love
your neighbor and hate your enemy,” he is probably summarizing two passages
from the law: Lev 19:13-18, concerning love for enemies; and Deut 20:16-18,
which dictates total warfare (= “hatred”) against the Canaanites, the enemies
of Israel.  The total warfare against the Canaanites was a troubling
feature of Old Testament law, a moral imperfection (like divorce) permitted by
Moses, in this case to prevent the apostasy and assimilation of the people of
Israel to the debased Canaanite culture.  As Jesus removed the concession
for divorce in last week’s reading, so now he corrects the commands on “hatred”
of enemies.  “Love your enemies,” Jesus says.  Human nature is to
love those who love you, so there is no merit in it.  Only the sociopath
or psychologically dysfunctional hates those who love him.  To be like
God, to have any moral merit, we must love even the unlovable, because this is
the imitatio Dei.  God loves the unlovable, starting with each one
of us, so we must do the same.  Of course, true love is compatible with
correction, rebuke, even punishment (according to Thomas Aquinas) if one is in
authority over a wrongdoer, since just punishment aims at the rehabilitation
and repentance of the perpetrator.  So loving one’s enemies is more
complex than simple “niceness.”  But in many instances, it does include
“niceness” as a first step.

Our Lord’s words are not a prescription for a
political or judicial system, but counsels for our personal behavior in daily
life.  His words are easy to admire and difficult to implement. 

Against whom are we bearing grudges this
week?  Do we actually pray for those who oppose us?  Catholics, do
you pray for those politicians who oppose the culture of life, or do you just
criticize them?  What about other enemies of your faith or political
life?  What about personal rivals? Against whom are you bearing grudges?
Perhaps a family member?  Wrongs perpetrated in the family can be the most
difficult to forgive. 

This Sunday is time for personal examination
of conscience and soul-searching, to identify where hatred lies in our heart,
and to begin the practices of generosity and prayer that can overcome it.

<!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:"MS Mincho"; panose-1:2 2 6 9 4 2 5 8 3 4; mso-font-alt:"MS 明朝"; mso-font-charset:128; mso-generic-font-family:modern; mso-font-pitch:fixed; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1791491579 134217746 0 131231 0;}
@font-face {font-family:"Cambria Math"; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;}
@font-face {font-family:Cambria; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1073743103 0 0 415 0;}
@font-face {font-family:Times; panose-1:2 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1342185562 0 0 415 0;}
@font-face {font-family:"\@MS Mincho"; panose-1:2 2 6 9 4 2 5 8 3 4; mso-font-charset:128; mso-generic-font-family:modern; mso-font-pitch:fixed; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1791491579 134217746 0 131231 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Cambria",serif; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS Mincho"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:Arial; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi; mso-bidi-language:AR-SA;}
a:link, span.MsoHyperlink {mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; color:blue; text-decoration:underline; text-underline:single;}
a:visited, span.MsoHyperlinkFollowed {mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; color:purple; mso-themecolor:followedhyperlink; text-decoration:underline; text-underline:single;}
p {mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-margin-top-alt:auto; margin-right:0in; mso-margin-bottom-alt:auto; margin-left:0in; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Times; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS Mincho"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-language:AR-SA;}
.MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; font-family:"Cambria",serif; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS Mincho"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:Arial; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi; mso-bidi-language:AR-SA;}size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;}
div.WordSection1 {page:WordSection1;}

Share This Post

Leave a Reply