7th Sunday Year C - Homily 1

Homily 1 - 2007

I find this section of Luke’s Gospel most challenging, yet most important. I really do believe that until we start living it, we are inevitably stuck in the never-ending cycle of violence that has plagued our world since Cain killed his brother Abel: not just violence between tribes, religious groups, nations, but also the low-level violence of constant provocation and retaliation: gossip, criticism, getting even, passive aggression, that happen at micro level and plague our more regular interactions within families, congregations, work places, etc.

What is Jesus’ answer? He sees our starting point as a clear sense of respect for our own unlosable human dignity and for the same unlosable human dignity of everyone else. We are all loved by God, wanted by God, called by God to community and, through community, to happiness.

In face of violence Jesus says: turn the other cheek. He calls for resistance, but non-violent resistance - that states and lays claim to our own dignity and our own inner freedom. To turn the other cheek is to stand up straight, look the offender straight in the eye, name the injustice for what it is – and to claim our own dignity. It is most certainly not meek submission - “put up with it”, “say nothing”, “cover up” - that simply serves to feed a debilitating dependence. Remember Jesus under interrogation in the courtyard of the High Priest: Why did you strike me? – He confronted his aggressors.

Non-violent resistance doesn’t necessarily stop further aggression – that is why it calls for considerable courage – but it changes the dynamic; it shows clearly where the dignity lies. And it puts stop to the cycle of  vindictiveness and  revenge. And it may even on occasion work – enabling offenders to see what they are doing. (Of course, a violent response, even if victorious, rarely stops further violence either - it simply puts it off for another day.)

Beyond that, away from the heat of confrontation, Jesus says: pray for those who hate you. Why? because there is danger in hatred – it sucks us in... we struggle to love those who hate us. But unless we do love, we get caught in the web of dependence and we lose our inner freedom: Their attitudes determine our attitudes: they call the tune, and we’re not free. So, says Jesus, pray for them: pray to break that spontaneous connection in our own minds between what they do and who they are. Pray to love them as God loves them – as God loves me.

The crucified Christ prayed for his torturers: Father, forgive them. They killed him physically. They couldn’t kill him spiritually. They couldn’t dehumanise him - though they tried. He refused to get sucked into their bitterness. He retained his dignity. He stayed free.