Recently I received a rather funny email from a friend concerning a God loving Marine coming to terms with an atheist professor. It triggered, however, a serious reflection on how we, as Christians, are to confront those who “get in our face” about issues of spiritual beliefs, sacred art, religious freedom, and personal liberty.
The passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5: 38-42, on “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” gives us an insight into who Jesus is as God. The behaviors that He explains, and asks us to imitate, are actions that He would perform; so in this passage on “an eye for an eye” we are getting a glimpse into the personality of God.
Jesus explains that the old Jewish law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is no longer appropriate or virtuous in God’s eyes, it doesn’t reflect the behavior and actions that the Lord is trying to teach His people to follow, actions which reflect the Lord’s own mind and heart.
The following photo by talented photographer Kenny Lindstrom found at www.flickr.com/photos/kennylindstrom/ provides meaning, visual imagery, and the clarity of a typical traffic stop sign. We instantly recognize what the creator of this sculpture is trying to say (by the way, is this image done in sand, stone, or clay?). We get the message; but, as in all art, its interpretation depends on the values and beliefs of the viewer. Lindstrom’s photograph is a wonderful example of how a piece of art can display an impression that is both a teaching and reflective moment for the viewer.
The Holy Scriptures, however, are not to be viewed as artistic reflections or suggestions to the reader and listener. The Holy Spirit divinely inspired the Bible; thus, the faithful understand (sometimes better than many of the academics) that Jesus, as the Son of God, came to teach, preach, and heal mankind. His words are not suggestions, they are directions for living within His Sacred Heart; and that demands fortitude, perseverance, and most importantly, His grace.
Over the last two thousand years the Catholic Church has taught that we have a right to defend ourselves – a right to resist the evil that is done to us. But Jesus teaches that we should not resist evil with an evil response or by an evil means – in other words we should not resist evil with a spirit of vengeance, rage, anger or with an unlawful or excessive physical or verbal response.
So, Jesus is teaching us that the tribal law of an “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is destructive and directly opposed to the Father’s plan of a loving spiritual family living within a shared community. Yet, not everyone in the world is a Christian; and the 20th and 21st centuries are showing themselves to be much more personally and collectively violent than many of the other centuries combined.
So what do we do? Jesus teaches us that our response to evil and insult, as difficult as this may be, should be measured; that is, it should be filled with patience and grace. For if we confront and attempt to defeat evil with an evil or vengeful response, then, we are weakening ourselves and empowering that which we hope to defeat. This does not mean, however, that we are to deny a sense of righteous and justifiable anger over injustices that are done – the Lord Himself gave witness to that when He drove the moneychangers and polluters of His Father’s Temple into the street.
The world can slap us on the cheek, it can take our belongings, it can take away our religious, political, and artistic freedoms and prevent us from speaking out against injustice, and it can even take our lives, but it can never touch our hearts or souls because the Lord God Himself has forever claimed us as His own children.
Let us pray that when we do have to correct our own actions or those of another, we do it based on Jesus’ spirit of graceful moderation, love, and kindness.
Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved