In the second half of Matthew Chapter 5 we see Jesus establish a new way of looking at moral responsibility. We go from “though shall not kill” to “love your enemy”. This is so well known to us now that its revolutionary nature is no longer appreciated.
In the ancient world there was a real “eye for an eye” mentality. Jesus is ending this practice and calls men to a higher standard of love and forgiveness. Jesus analogies anger to the crime of murder. He tells us that if we even call a brother a “fool”, then we will answer in hell for it. He tells the gathered crowd that to even look at a woman lustfully is the equivalent of adultery. This is where Jesus teaches us to, “turn the other cheek”. He tells us to, “love our enemies”. And finally, He calls for us to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Who can achieve such a level altruism and love?
Often it is presumed impossible but it’s not for all things are possible with God’s grace. The first thing to understand is that Jesus is talking about an inner transformation. Most people conform their actions to the norms of society, that’s the easy part. But God knows are inner hearts and here Jesus is teaching us to conform our inner selves to the high standards set by God. What seems impossible is to make this radical transformation all at once. That may be more difficult but ultimately accomplishing this transformation can occur over time.
There is a great story of Mother Theresa. She was begging for food for a hungry child. They went up to a man and asked for food. He spit in her face. She said to him, “Thank you for that for me, now perhaps some food for the child?”. That’s the radical “love your enemies” approach Jesus is teaching. Notice how it is infinitely more effective than if Mother Theresa had returned the man’s assault with violence or anger of her own.
Fortunately, God gives us time to work this change in our lives. Through prayer, fasting, alms giving and most importantly, the Eucharist we can become more like God. Ultimately, with the power of God’s grace, we can be as St. Paul was when he said, “it is not I who live but Christ who lives in me.”
Tomorrow: Matthew 6:1-17