Jesus tells us what it means to be like him in word and deed in Sunday’s Gospel; his challenge is radical. To be like him means that disciples accept their God-given status and dignity as a daughter and son of God. Disciples are to choose a path of non-violence and respond to their life situations with the dignity befitting a child of God. Disciples are to go the extra mile, love their enemies without the expectation of reciprocation, and welcome outsiders to their table. Such holiness is only possible with and through the life and love of God, which he freely offers – that which we call grace!
The demands of the Gospel are challenging but the response in the face of such love is to love in return, just as Jesus loved – unto death. This is what Eucharist celebrates – Jesus’ self-sacrifice and our participation in that mystery. Each of the Readings remind us of who we are, whose we are, and that this identity is to be reflected in our words and deeds. A Eucharistic life fuels self-giving love.
Sunday’s Gospel continues where last week’s left off. Last week, there were four antitheses from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was inviting a response of radical proportions to the reign of God. The perfection he urged was rooted in going beyond the righteousness demanded by the law of Moses and strictly observed by the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus had no intention to abolish the Law or to create his own law. His desire was to restore God’s original intention for the Law.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus is positing a bold new way to respond to life’s hurts. He is telling his disciples to choose positive, creative, non-violent means to settle their disputes and deal with injury and humiliation. Jesus was not suggesting an unattainable emotional feeling of love toward ones’ enemies; he was suggesting that his followers act in a positive manner toward them – that they choose a response other than retaliation. Where the law of talion used to be the order of the day (so that no more than what had been exacted could be asked in return), Jesus was suggesting that a new approach to old problems must now be sought. He gives three examples in this Gospel. The challenge for us is to follow Jesus’ lead and seek positive responses to other, often similar situations in life.
“An eye for an eye” is the principle that a person who has injured another person is penalized to a similar degree. The English word talion, from the Latin, talio, means a retaliation authorized by law, in which the punishment corresponds in kind and degree to the injury. The Latin term, Lex talionis, is the law of retaliation. Jesus teaches no eye for an eye and no tooth for a tooth.
As our Lord is kind and merciful, so should we be.