HOMILY FOR THE 7TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A,
THEME: Overcoming Evil with Good.
BY: Father Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA.
In our Gospel reading (Matthew 5:38–48), Jesus focuses on the source of human actions and decisions, namely, the human heart, from which good or bad actions and decisions originate. He says, “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” (Matthew 5:39).
The expression “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is what is known in Latin as “Lex talionis,” and in English as “the law of retaliation.” It was a moral principle in both the pagan and Jewish worlds to stop irrational and unfair revenge, especially blood revenge.
At the time, the principle of “Lex talionis” was believed to be a moral advancement, but it made matters worse. In truth, it seeks to reconcile one evil with another, thereby advancing evil. The most effective form of retaliation is forgiveness.
In today’s gospel passage, Jesus completely replaces the principle of “Lex talionis” with a new moral standard. “Offer no resistance to the evil one,” he says. The rest of our gospel passage is Jesus using concrete examples to demonstrate how this principle works in real life.
“When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well” (Matthew 5:39). The idea behind turning the other cheek is overcoming evil with good. It is a nonviolent approach to violence.
Additionally, “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles” (Matthew 5:41). During the Roman occupation of Israel, Roman soldiers occasionally forced Jews to carry their military equipment. So, if an adversary forces you to work for him, do not resist him but go the extra mile. As a result, “Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow” (Matthew 5:42).
“If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:40). In ancient Israel, people were usually sued for their land, cattle, or other valuable possessions rather than their clothes. However, being sued for one’s clothes demonstrates one’s poverty.
A tunic is an undergarment worn next to the skin, whereas a cloak is an outer garment worn over the tunic. So, even if someone wants to take the last thing you have, Jesus says, “offer no resistance to the evil one.” Just let it go!
In the preceding three examples, Jesus opposes retaliation with the principle of no resistance. Simply put, “turn the other cheek,” “go the extra mile,” and “give him your cloak” are the new moral standards.
But is this new set of moral standards even practical? How do you react, for instance, when you face intimidation, prejudice, false accusations, road rage, someone losing their cool with you, and so on? Do you offer no resistance and just let it go? Most likely, you will either fight back or take flight.
But if you choose to fight, you will be fighting fire with fire and making the world more dangerous. And if you run away, the violent person may think that violence is the only way to get what he wants. But what if you try to change the aggressor from the inside?
Mother Teresa would often go to businesses in Calcutta to ask for help with her work caring for the poor, the dying, and orphans. One time, when she asked a local businessman for help, he spat in her face. Remarkably, she reacted to him with, “Thank you. That was for me. But could you spare something for the orphans?”
Mother Teresa did not fight or flee in the face of violence. Instead, she engages him actively in the hopes of transforming him into someone new. She is loving her enemy while also making him see what he has done. Indeed, she is turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, giving him her cloak, and offering no resistance to him.
Mother Teresa’s reaction to the businessman highlights the central message of the Sermon on the Mount, which is transforming the source of human actions and decisions, namely, the human heart, from which good or bad actions and decisions originate. And, as if turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and giving him your cloak weren’t radical enough, Jesus instructs us to love (agape) our enemies (Matthew 5:44).
Jesus is referring to agape love—a type of love that wants the best for others, doesn’t want anything for itself, and doesn’t expect anything in return. Agape is based on doing the extra thing: turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, giving your tunic as well as your coat, and offering no resistance. Agape is Christian love (Isaiah 53:7).
Today, we are invited to practice agape love. Do the best thing you can think of for your worst enemy. If there is anything you would like someone to do for you, do it for them. If there are people you have a negative disposition toward, treat them with extreme kindness instead. It is what it means to resist the evil one with love.
Jesus ends by saying, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Here, the word “perfect” (teleios) means “end, conclusion, goal, etc.” So, to be “perfect” is to achieve or complete your purpose. Jesus is saying, “Be the person God made you to be”—a person with a clean heart (Psalm 51:19), with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), and a person who loves both his enemies, friends, and family. This is the one who overcomes evil with good.
Let us pray that we may experience the liberating power of forgiveness and seek ways to overcome evil with good. And may these words: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” resound in our hearts once more. Happy Sunday!
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