We Are on the Lord’s Team

User’s Guide to Sunday, Feb. 19

‘To be a Christian, one must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (cf. Acts 8:37; 1 John 2:23)’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 454).
‘To be a Christian, one must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (cf. Acts 8:37; 1 John 2:23)’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 454). (photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, Feb. 19, is the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48. In today’s Gospel, the Lord is teaching us, by his grace, to break the cycle of hatred and retribution.

When someone harms me, I may well become angry and in my anger seek to get back at the offender. If I do that, though, then Satan has earned a second victory and brought the anger and retribution to a higher level. Most likely, the one who originally harmed me will then take exception to my retribution and try to inflict more harm on me. And so the cycle continues and escalates. Satan loves this!

The Lord teaches today, in effect, “Break the cycle.” The Lord has dispatched us onto the field of this world to turn the game around and break this cycle of retribution and hatred. Don’t play on Satan’s team! To hate those who hate me, to get back at those who harm me, is to work for Satan, to play on his team. Why do that? To advance the ball for Jesus means taking the hit and not returning it. By loving our enemy, we break the cycle of hate. By refusing retribution, we rob Satan of a double victory.

That said, there are surely many questions that arise out of these sayings of Jesus.

Most of them, however, come from seeing Jesus’ words as a legalistic prescription rather than as a descriptive example. Nevertheless, they are important questions.

What does it mean to offer no resistance to injury? Does it mean that there is no place for a criminal justice system? Should police forces be banned? Is there no place for national defense or armed forces? Should bad behavior never be rebuked? Am I required to relinquish anything anyone asks me for? Must I always give money to beggars? Is it always wise to give someone whatever he asks for? Should I agree to accept every task that is asked of me?

The Lord does not, in this Gospel, forbid any self-defense or suggest that we should simply allow people to steal our things or make unreasonable demands on us. Individuals and nations must, at times, defend against unjust aggressors or criminals.

Rather, the Lord is saying, in effect: “Lighten up and stop being so uptight. If someone requests some of your time or takes something of yours without permission, don’t be like those who always protest: ‘Leave me alone and keep your hands off my stuff!’ And as regards your dignity, once again, lighten up. If someone attacks your dignity by striking you on the cheek, don’t go crazy with retaliation. Your dignity is rooted in me, not him. Stand your ground, look him in the eye and say, ‘I won’t imitate you, and I won’t be intimidated by you. I remain the Lord’s son and your brother. So let’s end all this foolishness right now.’”

Again, there may be times when we cannot allow the theft of important and necessary things, or when we simply cannot be inconvenienced because of other important duties.

There may also be times when we must defend our reputation lest others lose heart or take scandal. But there are so many times when we can just let it go and not be so worked up about minor matters, irritations and unkind remarks.

May we not strike back — but instead commit to ending Satan’s victories.

We are on the Lord’s team!