Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18/Psalm 102(103):1-4, 8, 10, 12-13/1 Corinthians 3:16-23/Matthew 5:38-48
There are two homily notes here for our reflection.
Fr. Thomas Oyode
“On the Ineffability of Non-violence”
In today’s gospel reading Jesus completes his “antitheses” of interpretation of the mosaic law. Last Sunday it was about anger, reconciliation, chastity, continence, marital fidelity and honesty. Today the focus is retaliation and love for enemies. It would be recalled that law is a function of social relations, on man’s relationship with his fellowman. Again, as in last Sunday, Jesus reinforces the demand for high standards in this relationship: be holy as your heavenly father is holy.
The demand for Christian holiness is also taken up in the other two readings of today. Moses, following God’s instruction, exhorts the people to aspire to living out their true identity as those created in the likeness of God(Lv. 19:1-2). Paul also reminds the Christian community of Corinth that their bodies constitutea templeof God which is holy (1 Cor. 3:16-18). The sense of holiness here is cultic. In other words, to be holy means to belong exclusively to God, to be consecratedto the divine. This theological understanding means that the Christian’s daily conduct and relationshipwith man and the universe should be such that magnifies the glory and holiness of God who relates with man and creation in justice,kindness and charity (cf. Mat. 5: 54-48) .
Again, one principle common to all readings in guiding this relationship is tolerance and forgiveness. A key to understanding this demand is what St. Paul says today of everything belonging to God through Christ and so it is unnecessary to boast or brag. In another place, Scriptures says that vengeance belongs to God. However, we are not unaware of a Christian history dotted by wars and crusades.Still, is the history of the catholic church not marked the fine thoughts of philosophers and theologians who sought to give theories, requisites for just wars? The Just War theory of St. Thomas Aquinas is a classic example here. By way of evolution, much philosophical debates and evaluations have given rise to a new theory known as just violence and this has further evolved into what some now propose as nonviolence or still more contemporary, just peace.
Our focus is on the catholic teaching on nonviolence. It should be borne in mind that nonviolence is a movement initiated by Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948). He called it “truth-force” (Satyagraha). It was aimed at winning the heart of the enemy, persuading the persecutor to admit the truth through acts of kindness and peaceful dissension. History has records of the 1930 Salt March and the1955-1956 Montgomery Bus boycott of Gandhi and Martin Luther King of India and the United States respectively. The results of this movement are still with us even beyond these two countries. Unfortunately, not much has been achieved in nipping violence in the bud.
As a matter of fact, oppression, persecution, wars, strives and conflict continue to ravage the human society across different parts of the world. We all woke up to the year 2020 with a shuddering fear of an impending World War III when PresidentTrump attacked Iran and killed Maj. Gen. QaseemSoleimani on January 3. In our country Nigeria, there has been a geometric increase in crime rate and the increased target at Christians by the Boko Haram. Our memories are more than fresh with gruesome murder of Leah Shairibu and Michael Nnadi, the Seminarian. How do we think of nonviolence in a situation such as our own? How do we accept Jesus’ message today to forgive, to turn the other cheek, to bless those who wish to extinguish us and our freely chosen faith from the face of the earth? In deed, this teaching is harder to accept in our own time now than it was in the time of Jesus. However, the early Christians practiced this teaching almost literally (see Didache, chapter 1). Because Jesus knows that loving the enemy is not easy he calls for prayer, pray for your enemy, because prayer disposes the heart to love. In this same sense, the thinking in some corners that Nigerian Christians should go beyond prayers and act against the enemy would not be considered Chris like or godly (cf. Mat. 5:48).
Today the Church is shifting the paradigm. Rather than seeking an imperative of a just war principle that justifies war, we should seek an imperative oof Just Peace. The Church’s Magisterium from Pope John XXIII to Francis clearly uphold peace. Pope Francis himself has said that “the strength of the Christian is the power of truth and love which leads to renunciation of all violence.” In his 2017 message for the50thWorld Day of Peace, titled: NONVIOLENCE: A STYLE OF POLITICS FOR PEACE, he says, “When victims of violenceare able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promoters of nonviolent peace making.”
Practically, this would mean a more critical approach to the study of the Just War theory in philosophy in the light of modern day challenges. It would require an ethic of peace that seeks to heal the damages caused by conflict, to allow Christian life be guided by fundamental Christian virtues of justice, equity, charity. To encourage ecumenical and interreligious dialogues centred around Just Peace and nonviolence. There should be an increased involvement in Christian social action in ways that Christians are seen showing practical gestures of friendship even to the persecutors. This, Jesus believes, and we believe too, would help in piercing the consciences of persecutors and shaming them too. We remember with fondness and respectful tribute, Imam AbubakarAbdullahi who gave shelter to some Christians in the North when they were under attack. Mary, Queen of peace, pray for us.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
LOVE NOT VENGEANCE
In the Gospel reading Jesus said to his disciples “you have heard how it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil” (Matt. 5:38-39). Jesus cited this old law called lex talionis the law of tit for tat which far from being a bloodthirsty law, is in fact the beginning of mercy. (Exd.21:23-25). Today this law is highly misinterpreted. There are three things we must bear in mind about this law.
1. The goal of the law was justice through the limitation of vengeance 2. It was not meant for private individual to extract vengeance; rather it was for judges to access punishment and penalty. 3. It was never carried out literally; otherwise it will reverse justice.
Therefore, interpretation of the scripture needs guidance. No part of the scripture should be interpreted in isolation. Today, individuals give meaning to many different parts of scripture as it suits them. some are now authors of their own bible. Others claim to get revelation directly from God; mind you no revelation from God will contradict the scriptures and the gospel of love. The Bible is not about what we want to hear, or what we want to say; rather it is God’s message for each one of us. We should study it no doubt; but we should not interpret it without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the tradition and the teaching office of the Church. Looking at our readings today we have more understanding about our Christian calling.
We are called to be holy and perfect: Holiness and perfection are two basic themes in today’s reading. People don’t believe that holiness is possible neither do they see perfection as true. Anyone who strives for it is rather labeled as ‘holy holy’. The first reading says “You shall be holy; for I the Lord God am holy.” The second reading says we are God’s temple and God’s spirit dwells in us. The gospel also invites us into this holiness of God by given us the rules of a holy life and call for perfection. Thus, it says in Matt. 5:48 “you, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In many parts of the scripture God is called Holy; Lev. 11, 19 and Is.6:3 are just three of many examples of passages about God’s holiness and perfection.
When God told Israel to be holy in the first reading He was instructing them to be distinct from the other nations by giving them specific regulations to govern their lives. God has set them apart from all others. As Christians, we are set apart from the world unto the Lord. We need to be living by God’s standards, not human standard, what the law says of old reflects human standard but what Christ gives to us is God’s standard. Therefore, if we Christians must be holy and perfect God should be the standard or the measure of all things. Our standard or moral judgment should be God, our standard for violence should be God, our standard in dealing with enemies should be God. By so doing we can live out our calling. In the eyes of the world we may be foolish but in the eyes of God we are wise.
We are called to be nonviolent: Jesus the perfecter of the law moves from the old law of limited vengeance to a spirit of non-retaliation. Throughout his suffering and ministry he did not defend himself with force and violence. As the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev.5:5) he could have retaliated but he did not because he is the Lamb of God (John1:29). As the Mighty one in battle (Ps.24:8) he could have fought for himself; but he did not because he is the Prince of peace (Is.9:6). As the Chief Judge (John5:22) he could have ordered deadly penalty; but he forgave his murders (Luke 23:34). In John 18:10 when Jesus was arrested Peter slashed off the ear of Malchus; but Jesus said to him Peter sheath your sword. Beloved in Christ, no doubt we have right to self defense but Jesus says sheath your sword. In the name of self defense many are already street fighters. Our real self defense is should be self control, self discipline and self education.
We are called not to revenge: The Bible has a great deal to say about revenge. What is Revenge? Revenge is a pronouncement of independence from God. Revenge is assuming the work of God. When the gospel says love your enemies it means that we should guard against revenge. Each time you are tempted to revenge remember that those who resisted vengeance rested in God’s justice. Remember men like Joseph, David, Stephen, and Paul. When you are tempted remember today’s first reading Lev.19:18 “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.” David had the opportunity to kill Saul but he submitted to God’s command to forego vengeance. Therefore, we must not take revenge because God forbids us to, revenge only satisfies sinful passions, God is in control (Ps.115:3 “Our God is in the heavens; he has power to do what he wills) and lastly, we all are at the mercy of God.