Matthew 5:38-48 Reflection: Retaliation, Love and Perfection

A reading from the gospel according to Matthew 5:38-48:

Jesus said to his disciples:
38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
39 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.
40 If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well.
41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.
42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
43 “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 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.
46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?
47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?
48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Reflection: Justice and Love

The gospel reading above is the last part of chapter 5 in the gospel of Matthew. It concludes with verse 48 where Jesus calls us, His followers, to be perfect because our Father is perfect. Like father, like son. This means we are to imitate our Father in His loving nature. Otherwise, we can’t be called His children if we are different from Him. After all, we were created in His image (Genesis 1:27).

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” appears in Leviticus 24:20 with the purpose of insuring that “the one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury”. On the surface, there is justice in doing so. If you did something wrong then you must be punished for it. Yet Jesus is offering something much better. Resist evil with good. “Turning the other cheek” doesn’t have to be understood literally.

When we are slapped, it is easy to retaliate and with that, violence continues. The next thing is having the other person become your enemy and a mortal one perhaps! No one can live peacefully and happily with a continuing threat of physical harm from an enemy. So here is Jesus calling us to love our enemies, forgive them and reconcile with them instead of doing a revenge.

The instructions of Jesus in our gospel above must be applied in the proper context. They cannot be used to support the continuation of abuse for example. Turning the other cheek is meant to shame the abuser, not to perpetuate injustice. Offering no resistance to evil is meant to do good so that the evildoer might be converted. Even in our modern society, a wrong deed cannot be corrected by another wrong deed. Likewise, offering your other tunic is meant for those who have lots of tunics. Think about a poor widow who has no extra clothing. Jesus definitely does not intend for her to go naked!

The central teaching of Jesus is love and therefore all other teachings must be understood in terms of loving God and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. Thus, the gospel above must also be applied in the context of the greatest commandment. If everyone is full of love, there would be no slapping of cheeks or even going to court for the simplest problem over shirts and skirts. Moreover, if you love your enemy as Jesus has taught, you will not intend to do him any harm but instead to forgive him or her and to pray for his or her conversion.

What Jesus requires of His disciples is for them to be as perfect as they can be. This means that anyone who follows Him must endeavor to be good at all times and to be better human beings than non-believers. As they say, let us always be good even if others are not.

If you are an employer and a worker of yours performs more than what is expected of him or her, you would be happy of course. You will do everything to keep him or her from going to another employer. This is the power of going the extra mile. You might even increase his or her salary, give him a certificate of appreciation and/or promote him to a higher position.

Dear Jesus, I pray for divine guidance so that I will know how to behave with love in every circumstance. Grant that only goodness will fill my heart and mind and that I may show goodness to others even to those who do not like me. Amen.

For further reflection, go here Matthew 5:38-42 and here Matthew 5:43-48

One comment

Any comment?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.