Monday in the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: 2 Cor 6:1-10; Mt 5:38-42

Both of our readings today appear to be about self-determination. This was a topic of great interest to Pope John Paul II. In both readings—the mishaps of Paul and the Old Law justifications cited by Jesus—the emphasis is on determining self by the story of the new, emerging Christian community rather than being determined by life events. To do this, one must be free. The key to that freedom lies in a relationship. Through His new law we are offered a “covenantal friendship with God and neighbor.”

Our natural inclination to “get the upper hand” in conflictual relationships is replaced by what John Paul II called “the law of the Gift”: we seek the good of the other for the others own sake by such things as giving one’s cloak and going the extra mile. To be self-determining, to make a gift of self, we have to put our Christian principles before one’s own personality. That’s what the Rule of St. Benedict is for. It is hard to do alone, but possible as part of a community.    

Jesus moves the focus from exterior conduct to interior states, specifically addressing the problem of resentment. Resentment is a lingering sense of hurt we experience when we suffer an undeserved injustice that is not rectified. It cannot be rectified because the offender has more power and is not repentant. It is not a failure to “get over it”; it is a natural reaction to undeserved injustice, to oppression. It is what makes it a sin on the part of the offender. What likely concerns Jesus is that resentment can cause our hearts orientation to be determined by the hurt. With resentment our values become distorted, inverted. This means our sense of what matters and how much, and our sense of what is due to whom becomes warped. It thereby turns us in on self. We lose our freedom to be self-determining. Our chief criterion for value becomes self-satisfaction. We push back.

Jesus says, “Not good.” It will not give us the righteousness needed for the kingdom of God.

Turning the other cheek, giving one’s cloak, going the extra mile; and giving to the beggar: none of these will necessarily stop the hurt. They will, though, make one a peacemaker. One determines self by relationship to Jesus Christ and avoids abandoning the higher values that lead to righteousness, i.e. to becoming children of God (IF that is we value most). In preferring cheek-turning etc, we grow in Christian conviction and commitment. From these we will grow in self-determination and thereby in identity, i.e., who we understand our deepest selves to be.

That will keep us on the road to the Kingdom of God.