by Father Anthony F. Raso
Sinner that I am, I have always found it fun to go into a classroom of children and tell them what the Lord is telling us in the Gospel this weekend, especially that part about “…when someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.”
The kids, to my perpetual amusement, look at me as if I had lost my mind. When I emphasize that this idea wasn’t coming directly from me but from Jesus, there has always been a moment of confusion followed by laughter. They must think: “Nooo… Jesus would never say anything as silly as that! This guy in the Roman collar must be making it up.”
He Said It and Meant It
I’m not making up anything. He really did say that! As with everything else that He said, He meant it and expects us to put it into practice.
The reason I find the reaction of the children to be so funny is that I know that if someone were to strike my Mediterranean self on the right cheek, my first thought would be to look for the nearest baseball bat. Furthermore, in all humility, I think I’m speaking for all of us. This sort of instant forgiveness and understanding is just not part of our emotional makeup – no matter what age we are.
Many years ago, on Christmas vacation from the seminary, I had to research a paper that was due when we got back in January. This being years before the age of the Internet, I drove to the main branch of the library at Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Heights.
When I returned outside, my car had been broken into – the window smashed, the glove compartment emptied and scattered.
a) I was a Roman Catholic young man,
b) I was a seminarian,
c) I had been researching a paper for the seminary so that I could, in good time, be ordained a priest,
d) I was on vacation and all-in-all in a good mood and,
e) I believed in everything that Jesus had taught me.
“State of Grace,” right? So, what was my reaction as I stood there and took in what happened? Let put it this way: When I am up for canonization, the “devil’s advocate” will have to deal with my reaction, and the canonization will be put off indefinitely, if not longer.
Now on a scale of one to 10, Christianity-wise, I am (I hope) about a five. In other words, a typical Roman Catholic, no worse than the next guy – and no better either, I guess. So, Jesus really expects the likes of me to turn the other cheek, each and every time, immediately and from the heart? Me? He must be kidding, right? Wrong.
He is not asking us to do something impossible – difficult, yes, but not impossible. When God gave His message to Moses that all of His people should not “…bear hatred for your brother and sister in your heart,” He meant it. When St. Paul told the Corinthians that they are temples of God with the Spirit of God dwelling within them, He was only telling them the truth.
Kinder, More Forgiving
When Jesus says to us that a Christian is someone who is simply better, kinder, more forgiving and more understanding than the tax collectors or the pagans, that is who He expects us to be. Hate is poison and will destroy the atmosphere in what should be a “temple of God.” It must have no place in our lives.
As those protesters in Chicago at the Democratic Convention of 1968 shouted “the whole world is watching,” Jesus is essentially telling us the same thing today: Not only is the eye of God upon us, who have been baptized and confirmed in faith, so is the eye of a cynical world. That world overflows with a “wisdom” that is, as St. Paul says today, “foolishness in the eyes of God.”
Will we then make fools of ourselves in the eyes of that world if we “turn the other cheek?” Count on it. However, “…if anyone considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise.”
As Moses tells the people, there will be a time to reprove your neighbor if he’s doing something wrong, but no revenge, no grudge and no heart stained with hatred is ever proper.
“Forgive and forget” as the saying goes. The “forget” part may be impossible. The Lord is not demanding the impossible from us but is reminding us that the “forgive” part is not impossible.
It must have been very difficult in every way for Jesus to lift Himself up on that cross and say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” But He made sure He said it and that everyone on that hill heard it. When He forgave His enemies, He was the wisest Man of all time, and that is the idea of the Word of God today: When we’re “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect,” it won’t be easy, but we’ll be as wise as He wants us to be, and we’ll know it today and a foolish world will remember it tomorrow.
Readings for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18
Psalm 103: 1-4, 8, 10, 12-13
1 Corinthians 3: 16-23
Matthew 5: 38-48
Father Anthony F. Raso is the pastor of Guardian Angel Church, Brighton Beach.