• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

"So it was said to your ancestors, but I say this to you ..."

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 31(30):3-4 — “Be my protector, O God, a mighty stronghold to save me. For You are my rock, my stronghold! Lead me, guide me, for the sake of Your name.”

First Reading: Sir 15:15-20 — “No one does he command to act unjustly.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34 — “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

Second Reading: 1 Cor 2:6-10 — “God predestined wisdom before the ages for our glory.”

Alleluia: Mt 11:25 — “Alleluia, alleluia. Blessed are You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth; You revealed to the little ones the mysteries of the kingdom. Alleluia, alleluia.”

Gospel: Mt 5:17-37 — “So it was said to your ancestors, but I say this to you now.”

Communion Antiphon: Ps 78(77)29-30: — “They ate and had their fill, and what they craved the Lord gave them; they were not disappointed in what they craved.”

Coming as they did from a Jewish background, some early Christians, thought that, in order to truly follow the teachings of Jesus, you began by keeping every bit of the Jewish law as handed down by God and interpreted by their ancestors. Other early Christians, equally serious about following Jesus, insisted that Jesus had brought a new way of thinking about the Jewish law, so that keeping the more than 600 laws that had grown up around the Ten Commandments was not the only way to be a Christian. Today we hear what Saint Matthew said to the early Christians of his community … remember they were mostly former Jews … of what Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you.

When Jesus spoke of what His followers had heard, He was reminding them of the Jewish law or some interpretation of the law. When He added, “But I say to you ...” Jesus dug deeper into the meaning of the law, and shared with His disciples then … as He shares with us now … what it means to follow Him. Understanding how important it is to follow Jesus, I think it might be wise to clear up some misconceptions.

When we hear Jesus command His followers to “turn the other cheek,” I believe we generally understand it to mean that the first response of Christians to violence is to be humble, meek, and mild. But the context of Jesus’ words adds another layer of meaning. For example, when and where Jesus lived, there was no such thing as toilet paper. Instead … and don’t get grossed out … everyone used their left hand for certain necessities. Now, because people used their left hand for those necessities, they never … ever … touched anyone else with their left hand. When you struck someone on the cheek, you did so with your right hand, with the backhand if you were striking an “inferior.” Striking with an open hand or fist was reserved to people of equal status. If you turn your cheek after someone has backhanded you, they cannot backhand you again with their right hand. To strike again, they have to use a forward motion raising your status … or they use their left hand … and that proved they are uncouth. So turning the other cheek, when you have been struck, challenges the established order. It is hard not to hit back, and it takes courage to turn the other cheek, but doing so seeks to end violence by asserting the dignity of every human being.

The dignity of every human being explains loving your enemies, too. Jewish law, indeed the law of most of the peoples who lived when Jesus lived, maintained that you owed a duty of respect to your neighbors, to the people of your family, to your clan, and to your nation … but you did not owe that same duty of respect to foreigners. Every foreigner was a potential enemy … potentially someone who could steal from you or harm you without worrying about the consequences … They could flee your neighborhood to return to the protection of their own family, clan, and home. In the same way, you did not have to worry about mistreating a foreigner because that foreigner was not connected to your family or your nation. But once again, Jesus dug deeper into the meaning of the law, Jesus said, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

God the Father created the heavens and the earth. The Jews already believed that, but it was Jesus who followed that belief to its logical conclusion. That conclusion being the following … God made everyone. God makes the “sun rise on the bad and the good.” God makes the rain fall “on the just and the unjust.” So what Jesus is telling us is that God must love everyone, even if we do not! “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength … And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In addition, Jesus tells us today, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

If we believe that God made, and therefore loves, all of us, then we all have a dignity and worth as human beings. Quite simply, this makes violence against anyone … against the weak … or against the strong … against those we don't agree with ... or those we don't like ... violence against anyone … just plain wrong.

By ourselves we do not always have the strength or the courage to turn the other cheek or love our enemies, but with Jesus, and by helping one another … when we are strengthened by Word and by Sacrament, we can begin. Quite simply we begin and when we do that … we are on our way to the perfection of the heavenly Father.

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