VII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 corinthians 3:16-23; matthew 5:38-48
on 25 february 1995, samandar singh—a hit man for some landlords—attacked sr rani maria in a bus in madhya pradesh; he then dragged her out and stabbed her to death.
singh was sentenced to life imprisonment; however, his jail term was reduced after sr selmi paul (sr maria’s sister) and her family sought his early release. sr paul says she was angry with the killer at first, but soon pardoned him. she spoke with the nuns in her convent about forgiving him but they rejected the idea with contempt and said singh should be paid in the same coin. in 2002, she visited singh in jail, and tied a «rakhi» on his wrist on rakshabandhan.
this act of love and reconciliation transformed singh. after his release he has been helping the marginalised and tribals!
when someone insults/hurts/harms us, our natural inclination is to get even. sr selmi paul gave up this natural urge and reached out her sister’s killer… and made him a brother!
this what the readings challenge us to do: to reach out in forgiveness and love, without retaliating.
in the gospel, jesus calls his disciples to nonviolence and love of enemies. he quotes the eye-for-an-eye rule of the mosaic law, which was meant to mitigate the human instinct for unbridled retaliation, and rules out retaliation and revenge altogether.
however, he is not advocating that we become wimps and doormats! the examples he gives are instances of nonviolent response to dishonour and oppression (context!), and to inspire similar forms of creative nonviolence (cf. the ways of mahatma gandhi and martin luther king jr). further, love is not affection; it is willing the good of the other, praying for our persecutors, and doing good to them.
why ought we to behave thus?
because it helps us and them!
because it is the way GOD acts. we are made in his image and likeness, and we are called to imitate him: «be holy, for i, the LORD, your GOD, am holy» (first reading) and «be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect» (gospel). jesus is not calling his disciples to impossible flawlessness but to imitate GOD’s inclusive and universal love (some translations use the word «compassionate»)
when someone insults/hurts/harms me, what will i toss back—insults or love, retaliation or reconciliation?
do i need to be reconciled with someone? if yes, how will i reach out to him/her?
how will i strive to imitate GOD in holiness and compassion?