Several years ago the newspaper reported the murder of a young Jewish boy of 16 and two of his friends who were seriously wounded as they were traveling home in a van in Manhattan. This unprovoked act of violence filled the hearts of many people with great anger and frustration. Everyone recoiled at this senseless violence and injustice. And yet we all know that violence and injustice must be rejected in favor of justice, understanding and peace.
Jesus’ message in the Gospel is very clear: there is no room for any retaliation, no eye for an eye, no resistance to injury. Indeed, “when a person strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other.” We can ask as so many have done whether the Lord is leaving us Christians 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. And such an assessment seems reasonable in human terms. Don’t we remember the day of hostages in Iran or those killed or injured in the Twin Towers bombing and how anger and fantasies of revenge crossed our minds? We remember how even people who were noted for their patience and forbearance began to demand violence to end these nightmares of violence. In the midst of unfairness, injustice and frustration, angry retaliation seems a sound option. In a violent society which has become ever more violent because of the craze to carry arms, and killing weapons are sold at enormous profits to those who do not have, it would only be natural for the Lord to be thought of as an outsider.
Then there are those who genuinely desire to follow the Lord in every detail yet find this teaching bitter medicine to be taken with deep reservation or as a tough ideal best left to St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa; certainly not for poor, frail humans like you or me. Was the Lord merely kidding? But by listening to the Gospel we know that the Lord couldn’t have been more serious. He was presenting a principle for Christians to live by. Actually it is a call to action. This call goes beyond mere avoidance of retaliation or refraining from revenge. It is even something beyond tolerance. It is a clear invitation to love all, even those who reject our love. It is therefore a call to extend our love and caring beyond the natural boundaries of family and friends. This love – our love – should include the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the black and the white, the Jew and the Arab, the liberal and the conservative.
“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We have to learn to love the way our heavenly Father does. If we are to be His followers we must love all, even our enemies. This is part of our daily work as Christians. Love, the way Jesus taught, is the only solution to violence and injustice in our day. This solution can work but it must begin with you and me right now. Let us use this time as a way to transform a violent world into the loving world created by God. It really is up to you. Will you be part of the solution? Jesus is counting on you! Will you help?