Seventh Sunday In Ordinary Time (February 19, 2017)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus picks up where he left off last Sunday by adding yet more verses to his version of the song “Higher Love.” Jesus proclaims that it isn’t enough to practice retribution that is balanced; you should not practice retribution at all. It isn’t enough to love your neighbor while hating your enemy; you must also love your enemies; you must pray for those who persecute you. When asked to travel a certain distance, you must go the extra mile. When asked for help, do what you can without expecting any return for your generosity. If someone strikes you on one side of your face, offer them the other side.
However, it would be a mistake to hear in Jesus’ words the invitation to be a wimp, a wall flower or a door mat: there comes a time in a person’s life (just as there were many times in Jesus’ life) when – despite all attempts to roll with the punches – you must simply – and strongly – stand up for what it right. The challenge is rooted in knowing how to take a stand against another without allowing hatred to grow in our hearts toward others. As the Book of Leviticus reminds us: “Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed: “Nothing so quickly calms down an angry elephant as the sight of a little lamb (writer’s note: you go first!); nothing so easily breaks the force of a cannon ball as wool. We do not set much value on correction that comes from anger – even when accompanied by reason – as to that which comes from reason alone. When princes visit their people with a peaceable retinue they honor them and cause them great joy, but when they come at the head of armies – even though for the common good – their visits are always disagreeable and harmful. In like manner, as long as reason rules and peaceably chastises, corrects and warns – even though severely and exactly – everyone loves and approves it.” (Part III, Ch. 8)
If we must stand up for ourselves we must avoid knocking others down. If we must correct, chastise or reprove others it must be done without suborning resentment. If we must work for peace it most be pursued without employing unjust means. As we know from our own experience, however, this is much easier said than done: when justice actually requires that we prevent someone from striking us (or others) on the other cheek we might unintentionally strike them first! Francis de Sales offers the following advice when we do the right thing in the wrong way: “As soon as you see that you are guilty of a wrathful deed, correct the fault right away by an act of meekness toward the person with whom you grew angry. Just as it is a sovereign remedy against lying to contradict the untruth upon the spot as soon as we see we have told one, so, too, we must repair our anger instantly by a contrary act of meekness. As the saying goers, fresh wounds are quickest healed.” (Ibid)
As we see so clearly in the life of Jesus, living a “higher love” often has less to do with what we do – or don’t do – to others; it has much more to do with how we do – or don’t do – with others.