Monday in the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time
Scripture Readings: 1 Kgs 21:1-16; Mt 5:38-42
Today Jesus teaches us what commentators call the “fifth antithesis.” Jesus gives six antitheses which are criteria for “righteousness” that must exceed that of religious leaders in order to “enter the kingdom of heaven.” Antitheses are teachings in the form of “You have heard it said… but I say to you.” He is giving a new law that does not abolish the old, Mosaic law, but fulfills it. The new law fulfills by obtaining the goal of the old law; it completes it. The goal of both the old and new law is a “covenantal friendship with God and neighbor.”
The issue here is justice. The old law, “an eye for an eye”, limited what one could do to redress a grievance. It protected the offender and ensured justice for the victim. By “limit”, we mean that an “eye for an eye” is a permission, not a command. Our natural inclination to “get the upper hand” in conflictual relationships is replaced by the law of love: seek the good of the other for the others own sake. To do this, we have to put our Christian principles before one’s own personality. The common response to this ideal is, “What an order! I can’t go through with it!”
Jesus moves the focus from exterior conduct to interior states, specifically addressing the problem of resentment. Resentment is not just an episode of anger. It 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 us to become cynical about justice. Justice is giving to others what is their due: first to God, then to neighbor. With resentment our values become distorted. 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. Our chief criterion for value becomes self-satisfaction. Indeed, secular psychology tells us the best thing to do when pushed around is to push back.
Jesus says, “Not good.” It will not give us the righteousness needed for the kingdom of God. Turning the other cheek, giving ones 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. These initiatives will keep us from 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 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.