Lord I am not worthy”—we repeat before receiving communion, aware that I know I can’t become bread broken, blood shed without strength from you, for the brethren.
I know that I will not have the strength to let myself “be consumed” by them. “I just come to beg your Spirit.”
The first reading begins with an invitation from God to his people to “Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Honour your father and mother, observe the Sabbath, do not hate the brother, give up resentment and revenge and “love” the neighbour as oneself (vv.3,17-18).
“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat and, if he is thirsty, give him water to drink” (Proverbs 25:21), is the highest point where of morals of the Old Testament.
Although the Israelites were the chosen race of God, in an archaic society where there was no state power capable of maintaining order, people easily resorted to revenge, retaliation without limits. It is to put a stop to such excesses that the Torah had established “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:23-25).
Properly understood, it remains valid even today. If practiced, it guarantees fairness in judgments. Jesus aims to go beyond this strict justice and calls to address the problem in another way (vv.38-42).
“You do not have to resist evil!” Rather than doing violence to the brother, you have to be willing to suffer injustice (Matthew 5:39).
“If someone strikes you on the right cheek”… (v.41). Jesus demands a radically new behaviour: “You offer also the other cheek.” The only way to break the evil cycle of offence and violence, is to forgive.
In Israel, for the poor, a tunic served as a blanket for the night. It is for this the Torah stated that it could not be seized (Exodus 22:25-26).
Jesus offers an extreme case of injustice: a disciple is deprived of a tunic. Clearly, all the other things have already been removed. What must be done? Jesus says, be willing to give not just a tunic, but also his cloak. He is willing to stay naked, like his master on the cross.
It often happened that the rich and the powerful bullied the poor peasants and forced them to act as guides or porters. We have an example in the passion narrative: Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross of Jesus (Matthew 27:31).
“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go two.” It is not a rule of wisdom. It does not suggest a strategy to convert the aggressor. He asks the disciple to “Give when asked and do not turn your back on anyone who wants to borrow from you” (v.42). Do not pretend not to understand, do not make excuses, do not invent difficulties, do not try to unload the problem onto others. If you can do something, just do it.
In the last example Jesus refers to a twofold commandment: “Love your neighbour but hate your enemy” (vv.43-48). It is the pinnacle of Christian ethics. It is the requirement of the gratuitous and unconditional love that does not expect any return and that, like God’s, reaches even those who do evil.
The availability to give everything, not keeping anything for yourself, to put yourself totally at the service of people—including the enemy—puts us in the footsteps of Christ and leads to the perfection of the Father who gives his all and does not exclude anyone from his love.
• Father Fernando Armellini SCJ