There is an old movie based on the beginnings of the Chinese communist revolution. A Chinese mob breaks into orphanage run by a Catholic priest. The communist officer, a big bully type, tries to assault a pretty young orphan girl. The priest, at the risk of his own life, tries to defend her. While two or three soldiers were holding the priest, the man slaps him saying: “Your Christ recommends turning the other cheek”. The priest complies. The officer slaps him on the other cheek too. The priest then in great anger lands a carefully armed punch at the belly of this bully making him very sick. The story did not say what happened to the priest or the girl or the orphanage. So what about the priest’s reaction? One could argue that the bully deserved what he got; and after all, the Lord did not leave any teaching about what we should do after the second slap! On the other hand, would a policy of meekness and non-resistance have saved the priest, the girl and the orphanage? We don’t know, we have no answer.

However, Jesus’ message in the gospel is very clear. There is no room for any retaliation. No eye for an eye, so resistance to injury. We can ask as so many have done whether the Lord is leaving us Catholics in the lurch, helpless, defenseless, and vulnerable in a world full of violence. Is passivity the only weapon in our Christian arsenal in our dealings with a violent society? There are those who would like to dismiss the advice as impractical, unrealistic, and even bordering on the absurd. In a violent society which has become even more violent because of the craze to carry guns, it would only be natural for the Lord to be thought of as an outsider, completely out of tune with the realities of the 21st century.

Then there are those like ourselves who genuinely desire to follow the Lord in every detail and yet find this teaching bitter medicine to be taken with deep reservations; or as a tough ideal best left to the Francis of Assisi and the Mother Theresa types of the world. But listening to the gospel, we know that the Lord couldn’t have been more serious. He was simply presenting a principle for the Catholic to live by. Actually, it is a call to action. It is a clear invitation to an active, dynamic love even for those who reject our love. It is therefore a call to extend our love and caring beyond the natural boundaries of family, rare indeed, to the unknown territory of the whole world. This love should include the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the black and the white, the liberal and the conservative. Jesus’ reasoning is rather simple – God Himself loves all people without distinction. He loves even those who do not love Him back.

To those who are courageous enough to attempt this difficult commandment is promised the gift of liberty of spirit – the secret of freedom. Think of the exclusiveness of our loves which confines us to a narrow group of people. Think of the reasons we sometimes build around ourselves when we are caught up in our own hostilities and prejudices. Think of the freedom of spirit we would enjoy in the knowledge that we love everyone and hate no one. Surprisingly, this is like the love of a child which is open-hearted, unhindered by prejudice, hostility and hate. Now we know why the Lord so often suggested that “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

What then does all this tell us? That there is a big gulf between God’s ways and ours, between divine wisdom and human wisdom. In the final analysis, divine wisdom will make sense to us only if we are converted to the idea of life proposed by Jesus and are willing to struggle for it. So what about you?