“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” We are all familiar with that expression; it comes from the Old Testament book of Leviticus, and means that if someone has blinded you in one eye through malice or carelessness, then you may do the same to him, but no more. It was the ancient form of moderating justice to fit the crime.
In today’s gospel reading at Mass, Our Divine Lord quotes that saying, and then adds, “But I say to you . . .” He does this several times during his public life: he takes a moral commandment of the Old Testament and raises it to a higher level of behavior, turning strict justice into kindness and gentleness. By doing this, he indicates that he has authority to change the law, and since the law comes from God, then Jesus is claiming divine authority. We can’t really appreciate how shocking this was to his Jewish hearers and what a radical claim this was on the part of Our Lord.
He goes on to say, “Offer no resistance to one who is evil.” And he then gives several examples, none of them involving life or death situations. He is not telling us that we must not resist those who would take our lives or those of our loved ones, but only that in ordinary day-to-day activities, we cannot be authentic followers of his if we seek to avenge ourselves for every injustice we suffer, however slight it may be, or carry grudges and plan to “get even” or to inflict suffering on someone else who has caused us some suffering, pain, or inconvenience. All of this is the extension of his earlier statement of the beatitude: Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.
Let us think of that often; I wish parents would repeat that beatitude often to their children, and point out how all the violence, the shooting, the bombing, and other forms of hatred and destruction that are shown on television are opposed to the spirit of Jesus. We might raise a more Christian generation by doing that. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago