Glory be to Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the one true God maker of heaven and earth, now and forever and ever, Amen. The biblical passage meant for this Sunday forms part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The words of Jesus recorded in the pages of Bible starting from chapter 5 to 7 of the gospel of St.Mathew has greatly been valued as moral teachings of Jesus by the people from all corners of the globe and, ipso facto, Jesus Christ is held in high esteem as a `Jagath-Guru'(A teacher for the whole world). His teachings were designed to suit not just for a particular sect of his period but for all kinds of people of all times. His teachings are relevant even today in this modern period. Gandhiji, our father of nation, himself has once stated that the `sermon on the mount' had made a great impact on him in moulding his lives' philosophy which helped him to wage a war of non-violence against the colonial power which resulted in the freedom of India.
Here our Lord refers to the law of the Old Testament period: "Eye for eye and tooth for tooth", a phrase came into vogue meaning `tit for tat'. It's all about retaliation in the same coin which was the order of the day. God's purpose behind this law was an expression of mercy. The law was given to the judges and said, in effect, "Make the punishment fit the crime". It was not a guide for personal revenge (Exodus 21:22-25, Leviticus 24:19-20, Deuteronomy 19:21). These laws were given to limit vengeance and help the court administrator punishment that was neither too strict nor too lenient. Some people, however, were using this phrase to justify their blood feuds against others, like some people still try to excuse their acts of revenge by saying, "I was just doing to him what he did to me". When we are wronged, often, our first reaction is to get even. But Jesus tells us that we should do good to those who wrong us. Further, Jesus is seen insisting his disciples not to resist an evil person and exhorting them to turn their other cheek to those who slap on one. To many Jews of Jesus' time, these statements were offensive. Any Messiah who would turn the other cheek was not the military leader they wanted to lead a revolt against Rome. Since they were under Roman oppression, they wanted retaliation against their enemies, whom they hated. But Jesus suggested a new, radical response to injustice: instead of demanding rights, give them up freely! According to Jesus, it is more important to give justice and mercy than to receive it.
Bear in mind, our desire should not be to keep score, but to love and forgive. This is not natural it is supernatural. Only God can give us the strength to love as He does. Instead of planning vengeance, pray for those who hurt us. Prayer is the only remedy to win over our enemies and to make them our friends whereby love, unity, and peace shall prevail. By telling us not to retaliate, Jesus keeps us from taking the law into our hands. By loving and praying for our enemies, we can overcome evil with good. The Pharisees interpreted Leviticus 19:18("Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of his people, but love your neighbour as yourself"), as teaching that they should love only those who love in return, and Psalm139:19-22 ("O God, how I wish you would kill the wicked! How I wish violent people would leave me alone! They say wicked things against you; they speak evil things against your name. O Lord, how I hate those who hate you! How I despise those who rebel against you! I hate them with a total hatred; I regard them as my enemies"), as meaning that they should hate their enemies. But Jesus says we are to love our enemies. If we love our enemies and treat them well, we will truly show that Jesus is Lord of our life. This is possible only to those who give themselves fully to God, because only He can deliver people from natural selfishness. We must trust the Holy Spirit to help us show love to those for whom we may not feel love.
Let us think it over in our lives' situations, especially in the context of the century old feuds in our Church, and uphold our Lord's instructions for a better Christian life and witness. Let us try to be true Christians and role models to the pagans as our Lord wants us to be.
See the concluding verse of this passage: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect". (Verse48) How can we be perfect?
1) In Character.
In this life we cannot be flawless, but we can aspire to be as much like Christ as possible. See what St. Paul has said of the joy of serving and the need of imitating Christ's humility through his epistle to Philippians Chapter 2: 1-11. Here, Jesus is being highlighted as a paragon of humility who humbled himself to be a simple servant in obeying the heavenly Father by way of self- emptying.
2) In Holiness.
In Leviticus 20:26, The Lord says: "You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy". In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 St.Paul reminds us of the same thing that God wants us to be holy. Like the Pharisees, we are to separate ourselves from the world's sinful values. But unlike the Pharisees, we are to be devoted to God's desires rather than our own, and carry his love and mercy into the world.
3) In Love.
We can seek to love others as completely as God loves us. St.John, in his 1 Epistle 4:7ff says that love comes from God because God himself is love. He further says that one who loves their brothers and sisters loves God and lives in His union and our love is made perfect in us so that we may have courage on the Judgement Day.
4) In Maturity.
We can't achieve Christ like character and holy living all at once, but we must grow toward maturity and wholeness. Just as we expect different behaviour from a baby, a child, a teenager, and an adult, so God expects different behaviour from us, depending on our stage of spiritual development. See what St.Peter says of this fact. "Be like newborn babies, always thirsty for the pure spiritual milk, so that by drinking it you may grow up and be saved". (I Peter 2:2).
We can be perfect if our behaviour is appropriate for our maturity level perfect, yet with much room to grow. Our tendency to sin must never deter us from striving to be more like Christ. Christ calls all of his disciples to excel, to rise above mediocrity, and to mature in every area, becoming like Him. Those who strive to become perfect will one day be perfect, even as Christ is perfect(1 John 3:2-3).
Christian life does not end up with mere baptism. But it must grow in faith, hope and love. If we want to grow to a fruitful Christian life, we need the grace of God for our Lord himself has said that without Him we can do nothing. (John 15:5). We, in the holy Church, receive the grace of God by listening to the word of God (2 Timothy 3:14-17) and by the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts (1 Thessalonians 1:5f). There are two principal ways in which this happens through the preaching of the gospel (1 Timothy 4:11-16) and through the holy sacraments (1 Corinthians 10:1-17). Therefore, let us try to emulate Christ who is the perpetual role model for us and grow spiritually to the perfection of Christ our head by internalising the Word of God and by actively partaking in the holy sacraments. May God bless us!
With love and prayers,
Yours in Lord's Service,
George Achen, Ireland.
Fr.T.George,St.Peter's&St.Paul's Orthodox Syrian church,