Winning Your Enemies
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
February 19, 2023
This Sunday, we encounter one of the most controversial of Jesus’ moral teachings. Because of these teachings, we, Christians, are often accused as being weak, stupid, and submissive in face of evil. Yet at the same time, when we try to fight for justice, our opponents readily utilize these verses against us. They accuse us as not being compassionate, loving and forgiving. So, how do we understand this? Does it mean that a wife simply must endure her abuse husband? Does it mean we do close our eyes to evil and injustice around us?
Jesus opens His teaching with quoting the Law of Moses, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (see Exo 21:24).” For modern ears, this law sounds cruel and even barbaric, but the real purpose of this law is to prevent excessive retaliation. When someone stole a lamb, he shall return a lamb or its equivalent. His enemies cannot demand his entire house in place of a lamb. The law is to promote sense of justice, to curb unnecessary violence, and escalation.
Then, Jesus transforms this law of Moses by pronouncing a new teaching, “do not resist evil!” For Jesus, we must go beyond seeking an equal retribution. But, does it mean we have to helplessly become a punching bag?
If we look deeper into the Old Testament, we will discover similar teachings like Proverbs 24:29, “Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me.” (check also Isa 50:6). Thus, Jesus’ teaching to resist no evil is not unique to Jesus. So, does Jesus truly transform the Law of Moses then?
Jesus’ ground-breaking teaching is not on passively receiving evil, but rather actively conquering evil with goodness. We can understand this if we look carefully Jesus’ examples. “If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well (Mat 5:40).” Tunic (Greek: χιτών, chiton) is usually a simple cloth and worn to cover the body, while clock (Greek: ἱμάτιον, himation) is more expensive garment, and put over the tunic. Thus, Jesus is saying that if someone demands your simple cloth, do not only give the ordinary one, but also the more precious garment. The action will surely puzzle many people, but it also shows our sincerity and effort to end enmity, as well as open the possibility of reconciliation and even friendship.
The real challenge is how to apply Jesus’ teaching in our daily lives. I must admit there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The application depends on your context and our prudence. One good example will be St. John Paul II and Ali Agca. On May 13, 1981, he attempted to assassinate the Pope. He shot several times and wounded the holy man. Miraculously, the Pope escaped death, and survived the evil attempt. Ali was arrested and sentenced to prison. What did Pope John Paul II do to Ali? He forgave Ali and even visited him in prison. The act was daring enough, because Ali might attack the Pope, and kill him for sure. Yet, the meeting was cordial, as both shook hands. Yes, Ali was forgiven, but, does it mean Ali can immediately walk out of prison? Not at all, Ali served his imprisonment for twenty years, because it is justice, but at the same time, the reconciliation takes place.
Being followers of Jesus is truly tough because we do not only look for justice, but also we need to bring our enemies closer to Jesus. Yet, with God’s grace, this is made possible.
Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP