Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Some scriptures you own.  They are my favorite and I love to return to them.  For me, the Emmaus story always brings me peace.  And other scriptures own you.  I can’t shake them or forget them or discard them.  That is what, “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” And “Turn the other cheek and “Love your enemy” are for me.  I cannot escape its challenge.  It inspires and burdens me.  It challenges and frustrates me.  It gives me courage and it frightens me.  It frees and imprisons me.  But above all, it stays with me.   It owns me.

I was very excited to preach about this.  Usually, Lent has begun and we skip this Gospel.  I told my friend Fr. Tim that I was psyched for this homily and he looked at me rather sadly and said, “Yeah, but nobody does it.”

I guess that is true and in my heart I know how often I fail to turn the other cheek, or pray for my persecutors or love my enemies.  I sometimes want my vengeance as much as the next guy, “Look out Canadian Women’s Hockey Team!”  At best I don’t love my enemies, I try to ignore them.  And sometimes I want my justice swift and clean and not diluted by mercy. When I think of those who have hurt my family, I can hardly imagine praying for them or loving them.  Indeed, I would like to dismiss this Gospel like a pious platitude.  I bet you the last time someone told you to turn the other cheek, it was about nothing important.  Or maybe I can just dismiss it as another piece of hyperbole from the Sermon on the Mount like plucking out your eyeball.  But something tells me Jesus meant what he said.

I think he meant what he said because I cannot shut out the voices that I heard on the streets of Kiev this week.  I think he meant what he said, because I hear those same cries from South Sudan, from Syria and a hundred other places where war rages on and those voices say to me, “There must be another way.”  I think he meant what he said, because they say the same thing amongst the gangs and in the neighborhoods of our cities.  I hear the pain that vibrates from the halls of our high schools of those that are bullied and the strife we hide in our own families.  Something has to change.  I think Jesus meant what he said.

What he said is that we must turn the other cheek – that we cannot meet the challenges of violence with more violence.  The least imaginative God fed response to being punched is to punch back.  It did not take a Savior to come up with that conclusion.  Jesus meant to show a new way that pointed toward life and away from a culture of death.  We must find a way that changes hearts and minds and no heart or mind was ever changed by punching back of shooting someone else.   

Jesus knew the folly of resisting evil with evil. It only doubles the amount of evil in the world.  It might sound like madness to cooperate – “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.”  But the only way I can prevent something from being taken from me is to freely give it.  When what is demanded is given, then a heart begins to change.

I think Jesus meant what he said when he said, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  If we love our enemies we would love everyone for our family, friends, neighbors and strangers would then be loved as well.  To love my enemy is to admit that even the one I cannot stand is created and loved by the same God who created and loved me.  There is a spirit of God that dwells in them as surely as it dwells in me and I am not free to ignore their dignity as I feel they ignore mine.  We have to find a way to stop asking who caused the fight and someone has to think about who will end it.  Something has to change.

I think Jesus meant what he said because those who have heeded these outlandish commands such as Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King. Jr, and Mother Theresa, rang out with the resonance of the truth well lived.  I think he meant what he said because Jesus always sees a capability, a resource for love in me that I cannot quite picture and most merely trust exists.  When I access that place however, God’s grace flows through me.

But above all, I think he meant what he said because he lived what he commanded.  Surely enough, they uttered foul things at him and brought evil against him, yet he offered no resistance.  They came at him.  They spat at him, hit him, tortured him and he turned the other cheek.  And finally, they hung him on a cross, and all he could say was, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”   I think he meant what he said because this was no theory.  This was his life.

Because I think he meant what he said, I must live a new way and show a new way.   I think he meant what I said because he is my Lord and my Savior and I must follow.