Today's gospel continues the section we heard last Sunday, that is, Jesus' comment on the Ten Commandments: Do not kill. Of course not, but not killing one another does not suffice to make people live "in the Kingdom of heaven". Rather, do never cultivate bitter and hateful feelings against each other. Then Do not commit adultery. But obviously, refraining from adultery does not yet make a family flourish; mutual care and attention are required to build up love and lasting togetherness. Do not swear a false oath. Certainly, but that is merely the utter limit. Honesty and truthfulness have to dominate in all situations, always and towards everyone. Jesus insists, it is not enough to stare at these Commandments, to cling thoughtlessly to the words without considering what they really mean.
Today Jesus adds further examples of the Law of Moses that need a better understanding than the mere words suggest.
The old rule of the Law of Moses was: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If there is need for punishment, then it must take its measure from the misdeed. This law was a big step forward at a time, when revenge knew no limits; when it was customary: If you injure one of our family, we shall kill you all. If you steal one of my chicken, I burn down your house. No, said the Law of Moses. not like this. Let the punishment be equal to the offence. And now Jesus says: Forget about punishment altogether. Stop the cycle of violence. Do not fight back. I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. All fighting needs two parties. If one party refuses the fight, the other will come to a halt as well. If you want to have peace, be you the first to cease fighting and make peace. Jesus uses telling images: If someone wants your coat, give him your shirt as well. If someone forces you to go one mile with him, do not hesitate to accompany him for two miles. The ancient An eye for an eye kept a quarrel balanced. The Christian Two miles instead of one is to put an end to the quarrel. That is what Jesus wants. The more we have to suffer from bickering, quarrels and personal feuds, the more reason we have to try the better way Jesus teaches us towards lasting peace. But here too we must be on our guard not to stare at the words. For instance, in our present political world, who would say that, when one nation wants to swallow up its neighbour, Jesus idea is, okay, let them do so? Would it not be a severe misunderstanding to maintain In order to advance peace in the world, we should let justice be forgotten? Who can recognize that as Jesus' attitude?
And the old Law of Moses prescribed: You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy. That law too was a great positive achievement. For it said: In any case and at all costs let love and peace reign in your group. Know clearly whom you mean when you say “WE”, and let neither hatred nor hostility enter between you. Help and support one another, live in peace, be like one great family. And now Jesus leads us a step further when he adds: Let no one escape from your circle of “WE”. Let no one stand outside. Do not have enemies at all. Even if some seem set against you, do not let them escape from your group. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Yes, you cannot be happy with what they do to you, but they still belong to you. They too are children of your heavenly Father, just like yourself. Learn something from your heavenly Father. Yes, there are the bad and the good, there are just and unjust people, but He makes his sun rise over all of them, and allows the rain to bless the fields of all of them. So remember that you are all children of the one same Father in heaven, and behave accordingly.
In modern language we would say: Don't be petty, be great. Do not be narrow-minded, have an open mind and remember that all people belong to the human family, and that they all deserve to be treated as such. No one is to be cursed, left outside, forgotten, rejected. That is what Jesus tells us when he says: So be perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect.
In practice, it is not easy to admit to oneself that no stranger is my enemy, but rather he or she too is part of my group of "WE". So everyone is neighbour. That is what Jesus teaches us, and happy are we when we are willing to listen to and learn from him. Amen.
Fr. Dietmar Lenfers, MAfr