Collect of the Day:
Lord God, King of heaven and earth, guide and sanctify, rule and govern our hearts and our bodies, our feelings, words and actions, according to your law and following your commandments.
With your help, in this world and the next,
may we deserve to receive freedom and salvation.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.
The First Reading: 1 Kings 21:1 – 16
Naboth of Jezreel had a vineyard close by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria, and Ahab said to Naboth, ‘Give me your vineyard to be my vegetable garden, since it adjoins my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it or, if you prefer, I will give you its worth in money.’ But Naboth answered Ahab, ‘The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors!’
Ahab went home gloomy and out of temper at the words of Naboth of Jezreel, ‘I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.’ He lay down on his bed and turned his face away and refused to eat. His wife Jezebel came to him. ‘Why are you so dispirited’ she said ‘that you will not eat?’ He said, ‘I have been speaking to Naboth of Jezreel; I said: Give me your vineyard either for money or, if you prefer, for another vineyard in exchange. But he said, “I will not give you my vineyard”.’ Then his wife Jezebel said, ‘You make a fine king of Israel, and no mistake! Get up and eat; cheer up, and you will feel better; I will get you the vineyard of Naboth of Jezreel myself.’
So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, sending them to the elders and nobles who lived where Naboth lived. In the letters she wrote, ‘Proclaim a fast, and put Naboth in the forefront of the people. Confront him with a couple of scoundrels who will accuse him like this, “You have cursed God and the king” Then take him outside and stone him to death.’
The men of Naboth’s town, the elders and nobles who lived in his town, did what Jezebel ordered, what was written in the letters she had sent them. They proclaimed a fast and put Naboth in the forefront of the people. Then the two scoundrels came and stood in front of him and made their accusation, ‘Naboth has cursed God and the king.’ They led him outside the town and stoned him to death. They then sent word to Jezebel, ‘Naboth has been stoned to death.’ When Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, ‘Get up! Take possession of the vineyard which Naboth of Jezreel would not give you for money, for Naboth is no longer alive, he is dead.’ When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth of Jezreel and take possession of it.
The Gospel: Matthew 5:38 – 42
Jesus said, ‘You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.’
How many times in life do we hear the term ‘An eye for an eye’ to justify the use of violence, vengeance, retribution against others that have wronged someone or society in general. If we look at this passage of Scripture where it is first given in Exodus 21:24, we can see that its intention is not to legitimise violence and vengeance, but rather to hold it in check. In the Ancient Near East, vengeance for an injury, real or perceived could be swift and harsh. Resulting in the wiping out of whole tribes, and family units. The punishment far out weighing the magnitude of the crime. We can see an example of this in Genesis 4:23-24; where Lamech says:
“I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
Here we find that Lamech has killed a young man for striking him, then in fear of retribution he says that if Cain was to be avenged sevenfold, that if anything should happen to him that he should be avenged seventy-sevenfold. Where does this kind of thinking end? Could the man who might come after Lamech claim seven hundred and seventy-sevenfold times vengeance?
So it is to counter this kind of mind set that we were given the Commandments in Exodus 21; that retribution sought, must be limited to the magnitude of the offense. Hence ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth etc,’ was in more brutal times a way to limit bloodshed and possible genocide, rather than giving a free pass to commit wanton violence.
But Jesus gives us a new way of reacting to violence and hatred, and that is the path of least resistance. He tells us if we are slapped on one cheek, to offer the other also. If someone asks for our coat give them your cloak as well. If we are forced to go one mile, go two. Is Jesus asking us to be cowards or doormats? I do not think so. Rather He is showing us the path to true strength.
Most conflicts in life occur because of the ego or the insecurity of the aggressor, and when we are hurt or wronged in this way it can play on our own ego and insecurities so we often react in a like manner. To react to violence in a non-violent way can often confound the aggressor and make them look bad in the eyes of others. This is where the true strength lies, in responding with love when we could easily vindicate ourselves by a physical or verbal response. This non-violent reaction can be likened to Ghandi’s concept of Ahisma or the Chinese concept of Wu-wei which means even in no action there is action.
We as Christians are called to love those who hate us, bless those who curse us and pray for our enemies, this kind of response that Jesus is describing here is putting these concepts into action. There of course is also a time for action that does not counter these rules, for example in the defense of ones family or those unable to take care of themselves. But a psychical response to an attack on our ego is never the best or Christian option.
I would like to leave you with a little story to reflect on:
“Once in a great kingdom there lived a man whose strength was praised far and wide. Now the King being a strong man and very proud of military prowess called for a meeting with this man. When the man arrived he was frail and old, the King scoffed and asked him: ‘How strong are you?’ the man replied, ‘I can withstand the morning breeze and pull a cicada from a blade of grass.’ The King laughed and said, ‘Away with you, you have nothing for me, I can tear the hide of a rhinoceros’s hide and withstand the blows of ten men. How can you have amassed such fame?’ The man replied ‘ My teachers strength was without peer, but his own family never knew, for he never used it.”