What Jesus Expects From His Followers
Monday of Week 11 in Ordinary Time - Cycle I
2 Cor. 6:1-10 & Mt. 5:38-42
Saint Paul describes what God’s workers, like himself, might expect in times of hardship, suffering and distress – being flogged, imprisoned, starved. They must face these afflictions with great fortitude, the Corinthians are told. We prove we are God’s servants by our purity, patience, kindness and holiness. The final challenge to His workers is that we must live joyfully despite what sorrows are encountered. Joy in the face of hardship is one of the strongest witnesses to our faith that we can give to others. It reflects the truth that our motivation and power comes not from ourselves, but from God who gives us joy even in hardship.
If someone insults us, or tries to take advantage of us, how do we respond? Do we retaliate and give as good as we got? This was not Jesus’ way. He set a new standard based not just on the requirements of justice – giving each their due – but based on the law of grace, love, and freedom. Jesus knew the moral law and its intention better than any legal expert could imagine. He quoted from the oldest recorded law in the world: if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (Exodus 21:23-25). Such a law today seems cruel but it was meant to limit vengeance as a first step towards mercy. This law was not normally taken literally but served as a guide for a judge in a law court for assessing punishment and penalty (Deut. 19:18).
The Old Testament is full of references to the command that we must be merciful, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” (Proverbs 25:21). “Do not say, ‘I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.’" (Proverbs 24:29). “Let him give his cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults.” (Lamentations 3:30).
Jesus does something quite remarkable and unheard of by making clear that there is no room for retaliation. We must not only avoid returning evil for evil but we must seek the good of those who wish us ill. Do we accept insults, as Jesus did, with no resentment or malice? When we are compelled by others to do more than we think we should, do we insist on our rights or respond with grace and cheerfulness?
What makes a disciple of Jesus Christ different from everyone else? It is treating others, not as they deserve, but as God wishes them to be treated – with loving-kindness and mercy. Only the Cross of Jesus Christ can free us from the tyranny of malice, hatred, revenge and resentment, and gives us the courage to return evil with good. Such love and grace has power to heal, save and build relationships. The Lord Jesus suffered insult, abuse, injustice and death on a cross for our sake. He did not retaliate but forgave His enemies. Since God has been merciful towards us through the offering of His Son, Jesus Christ, we in turn are called to be merciful towards our neighbour, even those who cause us grief and harm. Do we know the power and freedom of Christ’s redeeming love and mercy?
Lord Jesus, teach us to be like You, to love those who hate us, to pray for those who ill-treat us, that we may truly be the children of Your Father.