Gospel of Sunday February 19: Matthew 5, 38-48
About Matthew 5, 38-48. Dear Sisters and Brothers of Mercy, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it). Also today I share with you a brief thought of meditation on the Gospel, with particular reference to the theme of mercy
VII Sunday Year A, Matthew 5, 38-48
Eye for Eye
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5, 38-48: Reflections
In the Bible there is a progression of understanding of the mystery of God between the Old and the New Testaments, and only in Jesus, the living Word of the Father, is there definitive Revelation: the entire Old Testament is nothing but a prophecy of Jesus, who is the ultimate exegesis of the Old Testament.
The books of the Old Testament “contain imperfect and perishable things… God… wisely ordained that the New should be hidden in the Old and the Old revealed in the New.
Since, even if Christ founded the New Covenant in his blood (cf. Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25), nevertheless the books of the Old Testament, wholly taken up in the evangelical preaching, acquire and manifest their full meaning in the New Testament (see Mt 5:17; Lk 24:27), which they in turn illuminate and explain” (Dei Verbum, nn. 15-16).
Therefore, “in order to accurately derive the meaning of the sacred texts, attention must be paid … to the content and unity of all Scripture” (Dei Verbum, n. 12).
This progression is clearly seen on the theme of revenge. Lamech, great-grandson of Cain, says: “I killed a man for my scratch and a boy for my bruise. Cain will be avenged seven times, but Lamech seventy-seven times” (Gen 4:23-24).
The Pentateuch limits vengeance to the dimensions of the offense: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Ex 21:24).
“Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the same injury he inflicted on another will be done to him” (Lev 24:20; Dt 19:21).
For the religious Jew, hatred of enemies was as much a duty as the fight against evil. In war, it was then believed to pay homage to God by not taking either prisoners or plunder, but by putting everyone to the sword: it was the “herem”, the “anathema”: “When the Lord your God has put the other nations in your power and you have defeated them, you will devote them to extermination; you will not make a covenant with them nor will you be gracious to them” (Dt 7:2).
And the prophets pronounce heavy oracles of curse against the enemy nations of Israel. Tacitus wrote about the Jews: “Apud ipsos, fides obstinata, mercy in promptu; sed adversus omnes alios hostile odium”: “Among them, an obstinate faith, an easy mercy; but hostile hatred against others.”
Rabbi Neusner still says today that “it is a religious duty to resist evil, fight for good, love God, and fight those who will become God’s enemies… The Torah always requires Israel to fight for God’s cause; the Torah admits war, recognizes the legitimate use of force”.
In the so-called imprecatory Psalms, vengeance is entrusted to God: “Condemn them, O God, let them succumb to their plots, scatter them for so many crimes, because they have rebelled against you” (Ps 5:11); “Let the wicked return to hell, all peoples who forget God” (Ps 9:18); “Let their table be a snare for them, their banquets a snare. Let their eyes dim, let them not see; wears out their hips forever. Pour out your wrath on them, let your burning anger reach them. Let their house be desolate, their tent without inhabitants” (Ps 69:23-26); “Let those who accuse me be confounded and annihilated, let those who seek my misfortune be covered with infamy and shame” (Ps 71:13); “My God, make them like whirlwinds, like chaff scattered by the wind. Like the fire that burns the forest and like the flame that devours the mountains, so you chase them with your storm and upset them with your hurricane. Shame their faces to seek your name, Lord. Let them be confounded and troubled forever, let them be humbled, let them perish” (Ps 83:14-18). It is from God that vengeance is asked, but in man there is always hatred, acrimony, a request for severe suffering for the enemy.
Instead Jesus affirms: “You have understood that it was said: «An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth»; but I say to you, do not oppose the wicked one; indeed, if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also to him; and to anyone who wants to sue you to take your tunic, you must also leave your cloak. And if anyone forces you to go a mile, go with him two” (Mt 5:38-41). And Paul will say: “Do not take justice into yourselves, dear friends… On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink: in doing this, in fact, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:19-21).
First of all, Jesus asks us to renounce the logic of violence, even if motivated: we must not oppose the wicked, just as he did not rebel, to whom the first community applied the passage from Isaiah: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter and like a lamb speechless before the shearer, so he does not open his mouth” (Is 53:7-8, quoted according to the Greek text in Acts 8:32).
But then he too asks us to love the enemy: “Love your enemies” (Mt 5:44).
And to love means to want the good of the other, to benefit him, to rescue him, to help him. Like Jesus, who sacrificed his life for us sinners.
Finally, Jesus even asks us: “Pray for your persecutors” (Mt 5:44). Praying is not only begging thanks for those who have hurt us, but it is starting to look at the adversary with the very eyes of God, seeing in him a brother, a precious person, to be protected and for whom he deserves to sacrifice himself!
Jesus gives the example: by dying on the cross, he forgives those who killed him: “Jesus said: ‘Father, forgive them'” (Lk 23:34). As will Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who dying prays for those who stone him: “O Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). But Jesus does even more: not only does he forgive his executioners, but he exonerates them from responsibility: “They don’t know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34), therefore they are not guilty! “On the cross, Jesus bears witness to all of his infinite capacity for love and all of his “juridical” intelligence, even managing to find, before hell, the technical motivation for acquittal: the defendants – all men – are acquitted for inability to understand and want” (A. D’Ascanio).
“It is therefore up to the disciple to forgive and to give: to-give is to give the gift par excellence, forgiveness being the gift of gifts… The “Christian difference” is expensive but, by the grace of the Lord, it is possible” (E. Whites). Jesus taught us this, many Saints and Martyrs taught us this, many sisters and brothers in the Faith who live in meekness, non-violence, forgiveness towards persecutors show it to us every day.
Good Mercy to all!
Anyone wishing to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, ask me at email@example.com.
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