Monday, June 17, 2024

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kings 21:1-6; Ps 5:2-7; Matthew 5:38-42

Jesus, Ahab, or Jezebel? This is the question posed to us by our readings. What do you do when life doesn’t go your way because of someone else? Do you mope about, lamenting loudly about that person? Do you, in the words of the Foo Fighters song “Monkey Wrench,” waste another night planning [your] revenge?” Or, do you recognize that things aren’t going well and practice benevolent detachment, giving that and everything else that worries you to the Lord?

Our Gospel reading for this evening is one of those very challenging passages from Saint Matthew’s Gospel. One temptation that must resisted when dealing with a passage like this is to water it down, attempting to make it less convicting. Let’s be clear, in this passage, the Lord doesn’t only tell us not to seek revenge. As his follower, he teaches you to turn the other cheek, to go out of your way for the one whom you perceive has wronged you.

In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul summarizes the response of a Christian disciple well: “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”1​ This isn’t just a slogan. The passage begins with “Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.”2 By conquering evil with good, the apostle tells us that by doing what Jesus instructs in today’s Gospel, “you will heap burning coals” on the head of one does you evil.3

God is a God of justice. Like there is no love without truth, there is no mercy without justice. In his encyclical letter on hope, Pope Benedict XVI insisted: “Only God can create justice.”4 “The image of the Last Judgement is not primarily an image of terror,” Pope Benedict continued, “but an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope.”5 Mercy does not cancel out justice.

Jesus at Bethany, by James Tissot 186-1894

Among fallen and sinful human beings, justice easily becomes revenge. Revenge is to justice what indifference is to mercy. Mercy is only genuine when extended with the recognition that a true wrong has been committed. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is known as the lex talionis. The lex talionis is the law of retribution.

Early Christians explicitly rejected retributive justice, choosing restorative justice instead. Concerning judicial punishment, the Catechism teaches that “in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.”6 In this regard, the Church views capital punishment as retributive, a punishment that leaves no possibility for the offender to correct.

In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, in a meeting of the men of the village, fearing another pogrom, one man says that rather than leaving, “We should defend ourselves!” Another man yells, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” To which Tevye, the main character replies: “Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.” Finally, the village leader says, “Rabbi, we’ve been waiting for the messiah all our lives. Wouldn’t this be a good time for him to come?” The old rabbi responds: “We’ll have to wait for him someplace else.”

My friends, Jesus came to make the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the toothless chew. We are his disciples only insofar as we join his messianic mission. As we sang in our Responsory: “Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.”

1 Romans 12:21.
2 Romans 12:19.
3 Romans 12:20.
4 Pope Benedict XVI. Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi [On Christian Hope], sec. 44.
5 Ibid.
6 Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 2266.

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Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hosea 2:16.17c.18.21-22; Ps 145:2-9; Matthew 9:18-26 Our Gospel today is Saint Matthew’s version of events first written about ...