Homily | Jesus Gives Us A New Law to Live By

 It has been a long time since I have thought about my studies as an undergraduate. I have a degree in Justice and Law because I originally wanted to be an Air Force officer in Security Police or a civilian policeman.

Because God had other plans for me I remember very little of the subject because there were more pressing things to study. Like theology. But one of the few things I do remember about the law regards what Jesus is referring to when he said, "You have heard it said, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth …" Lex Talionis (the law of retaliation). This is the foundation of the Code of Hammurabi, in a sense the very first ways in which someone could seek justice for a wrongdoing.

What Jesus is doing now is eliminating the old law of limited vengeance and instituting the idea of not getting revenge and not being angry over the wrongdoing. Jesus goes on to use three examples of how one can practice what he, Jesus, preached. The key is, though, that you should not take what he says literally; if you were to do that, you’d end up cold and beaten. No, what Jesus is telling us is that while we should not allow people to steam roll us, we should also be willing to forgive each other for perceived and real injustices; we should turn the other cheek. But it seems that in our society this one thing - the ability to let go of anger and resentment - is really difficult. Because these days we as a society are perpetually offended.  

My sisters and brothers, everything offends us. Usually the offensive thing is something that we disagree with, usually someone else’s opinion. Whenever someone has a different opinion, inevitably the accusations of bigotry, racism, or sexism are thrown around. Once these terms are voiced it is very easy to label an opposing opinion offensive and then dismiss it as the ramblings of someone on the wrong side of history. Further, once we dismiss these ramblings we give ourselves permission not to be forgiving, not to turn the other cheek, no matter if the person asks for forgiveness or not.

When Jesus commissions his disciples to turn the other cheek, he is telling them this because he knows that they have taken the old teaching to the point of seeking revenge on those who have wronged them. I would also say that Jesus knew that the future disciples would be facing hardships on account of their faith in him. Early Christians faced persecution on an unprecedented scale. Even after the emperor made Christianity the religion of the empire, Christians were still discriminated against in many outlying areas. So in order to survive, they developed a tougher skin and also began to fully understand what Jesus demanded from them and actually do their best to turn the other cheek.

Unfortunately, we have not allowed ourselves to develop that tough skin; we have a hard time turning the other cheek because generally speaking, we rarely have to do it. Why? Because if we want, we just avoid the person who has hurt us or whose opinion we don’t like; we cut them out of our life and act as if they were never a part of it. These days it’s very easy to do such a thing. We don’t answer their e-mail or text messages; because of caller ID we can ignore their calls; because we are a mobile and interconnected society thanks to the internet, we only have to spend time associating with people who think like us and agree with us.

Another reason we are so easily offended is because we think so highly of ourselves; we think that any criticism leveled against us could not be true. I was watching movie trailers on iTunes the other day and one of the movies was a documentary on the education system here in the U.S. As of the release of that documentary, the U.S. is number 25 in math and science; number 20 for other academic subjects. Do you know where we excel past all the other first world nations? Self-esteem and confidence; our self-esteem, what we think of ourselves is through the roof.

Unfortunately, to avoid the sting of failure or defeat, we have done ourselves and our children a disservice because we have sheltered ourselves from as much hurt and pain, and from opinions we disagree with, from anything that would cause them and even us to question how great we think we are. By telling them that they are the best at everything they have never had the opportunity to truly forgive someone who hurt them, probably because they have never really experienced any type of hurt. That’s not to say that people have not had their feelings hurt or have been disappointed, but they probably have never really felt the hurt where they needed to be asked for forgiveness.

Now some would say that this is great, but the reality is life is not all peaches and cream. We are going to have our feelings hurt, people are going to do or say something to upset us, we are going to hear opinions and comments that we don’t like and we just have to face that fact. Add on the fact that as I have just said, we are such a connected society that it is very easy to disconnect from each other. We delete people from our Facebook and Twitter friends list, or our contact list in our phones. So the opportunities to actually turn the other cheek are fewer and farther between.

The truth my friends is this, today it seems that the most difficult words in our society to accept are, “I’m sorry.” Whatever the reasons for our inability to forgive someone, if we refuse to forgive and instead demand vengeance, then we are refusing to accept Jesus Christ himself. So maybe we need not drop someone so fast; maybe that should be the last resort instead of the first. Maybe the first thing we need to do is to examine what the other person is saying; ask ourselves why they are saying what they are saying. Are they dealing with a lot of stress? Are they having personal problems that seem insurmountable? Maybe instead of dropping them, which is the path of least resistance, maybe forgiveness and understanding would be better.

 

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