JESUS DEMANDS EVEN MORE THAN WHAT THE LAW DEMANDS
(A biblical refection on THE 7th ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 19 February 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:38-48
First Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18; Psalms: Psalm 103:1-4,10,12-13; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
The Scripture Text
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have you cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:38-48 RSV)
Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last week’s reading. Again, Jesus answers the charge that He is teaching His followers to disregard the Jewish law. In response, Jesus shows He demands even more than what the law demands.
The quotation about “taking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is taken from Exodus 21:24 and is one of the most misunderstood passages in Scripture. Although people usually quote it when trying to justify revenge, its original purpose was to prevent unjust punishments by placing limits on the penalty imposed on a convicted criminal. Therefore, the authorities could not put the guilty party to death for knocking out someone’s tooth. The worst thing they could do to him was knock out his tooth also. Thus, this passage was never intended to be but only a limitation on what it could be. The punishment could never exceed the crime.
Although the law permits revenge, Jesus does not advocate it. In explaining that his followers should not offer resistance to injury, Jesus says they should give not only their shirt to someone who wants it but their coat as well. The coat was an outer garment a person slept in at night. Although Palestinian days were usually warm, the temperature often dropped dramatically after the sun went down. The coat was all the poor man had to keep him from freeing at night and it was so important that, according to Jewish law, if a man gave his coat as collateral for a loan, the lender was supposed to return it to him before nightfall so he wouldn’t freeze to death.
In His preaching, Jesus sometimes used exaggeration, an accepted Near Eastern teaching technique, to stress and important point. Jesus’ comments in today’s Gospel about giving up one’s coat and in last week’s Gospel about gouging out one’s eyes if they are a source of temptation are examples of exaggeration. Thus, in today’s reading Jesus is not saying that His followers should deliberately expose themselves to physical harm but that they are to forgo any revenge they might be entitled to and should even be willing to put up with injustice for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, it is difficult for me to respond to hate with love but that is what Jesus, Your Son, is asking of me in today’s Gospel. If there is someone in my life I do hate, let the Holy Spirit guide me when I go out of my way this week to do something nice for that person. Praise the Holy Trinity, Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
Jakarta, 17 February 2017
A Christian Pilgrim