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(Part 99)


June 16, 2014
Today’s gospel: Matthew 5:38-42

Last November 24, 2013, in the city of San Juan, Argentina, an extraordinary event happened. A violent mob of feminists and lesbians, a number of them topless, assaulted rosary-praying Catholic men who surrounded the cathedral to protect it from vandalism. The men stood there, arm in arm, just praying, while the feminists spray-painted their crotches and faces, cursed them and spat at them, performed obscene sexual acts in front of them, pushed their bare breasts into their faces, and generally just verbally and physically abused them. The women chanted a song that said “we want to be whores, travesties and lesbians.” The men prayed, some of them wept, none of them retaliated. The women also burned an effigy of Pope Francis.

Last April 24, 2013, topless women of the feminist group Femen, protesting against homophobia, disrupted a conference at the Brussels’ Free University campus, throwing water on and drenching Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, who was seated at the conference table on the stage. The archbishop just sat there quietly composed with hands clasped in prayer. At the end, before leaving the room, he kissed a picture of the Virgin Mary.

These are graphic and striking instances of offering no resistance to one who is evil.

Jesus taught, “But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” (Mt 5:39a). That was a very radical teaching. From of old, even up to now, it was but natural for one to hate his enemy, and certainly to retaliate against someone who sought to do him harm, or at the very least, to protect himself. Thus, in many societies, one who severely hurt or even killed a person who assaulted him with deadly force would not be charged with a crime.

Even the people of God, the Israelites, exclaimed in one of the psalms: “Do I not hate, Lord, those who hate you? Those who rise against you, do I not loathe? With fierce hatred I hate them, enemies I count as my own.” (Ps 139:21-22). They were standing up for God. They were rising in righteous anger at God’s enemies. They were sure of the rightness of their posture, even in a way challenging God. “Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my thoughts. See if there is a wicked path in me” (Ps 139:23-24a).

God through Moses had told the Israelites: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lv 19:18b). There was no Old Testament commandment allowing hatred of one’s enemy. But still, the people of God accepted this posture. Thus Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” (Mt 5:43). The people just assumed that was right. So Jesus overturns this. “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). The command to love was extended to include the enemy.

Why? Well, God is love. God sent His very own Son into the world to suffer and die for sinners. Jesus, while hanging on the cross, asked the Father to forgive those who assaulted, demeaned and crucified him. As Paul averred, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8). This is the God who “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (Mt 5:45b).

Well, that is God. But why should we love our enemy? Jesus gives the answer: “that you may be children of your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:45a). We are children of God, made in His image and likeness. He is a holy God, and His true offspring are also holy. We are brothers of Jesus who follow in his footsteps. What would distinguish us if not love, the very love of God? “For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?” (Mt 5:46-47).

So we are not only to not offer any personal resistance to one who is evil, but we are actually to love our enemy. When we do so, then we are acting in the way of God. Then we are able to witness to an antagonistic pagan world. Then we are enabled to grow in the very holiness of God.

Not offering any resistance to one who is evil does not mean doing nothing and just letting evil run rampant. The Argentinian men did not just do nothing. They protected the cathedral and they prayed. The archbishop did not just sit there. He prayed and gave living witness to love and to forbearance under duress. Jesus did not just do nothing even if he could have called upon a legion of angels. He willingly went to the cross and won for us our salvation. They all did offer resistance to evil, but in a very radical way, not resorting to violence, to retaliation, to hatred.

To offer no resistance to one who is evil is going to be extremely difficult. This is especially as evil is intensifying in the world today. But we precisely do not stand up for or tolerate evil. However, we fight evil by overcoming it with good. As Paul said, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all.” (Rom 12:17). What is noble is what is of God. Besides, it is only love that can turn the hearts of people, people who are themselves children of God, but who somehow have gone astray. God loved us even when we were His enemies, even when we were the ones who sent Jesus to the cross because of our sins. What if God did not love us unconditionally? Rather then, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” (Rom 12:20).

You want to get back at your enemy and put him in his proper place? Then love him. Offer no resistance to one who is evil. “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.” (Rom 12:21).

* * *

For reflection and/or discussion: Were you ever the object of assault (verbal or physical) by one acting in an evil way?
For prayer and action: Ask God for the grace not to retaliate in kind or to hate those who mistreat you.

* * *

Notice: The above is taken from my forthcoming new book, “Forty Days of Challenge in the Christian Life.” The book will tackle 40 difficult teachings in the Bible and explain what these mean.

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