Ending the Cycle of Hatred and Violence – Homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
A few weeks ago we read how Jesus went up the mountain
to teach his disciples.
Just as Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the Law,
Jesus, the new Moses, speaks his Sermon on the Mount
to deepen our understanding of the Law.
This week he is still on the mountain
and his words are clear:
“Offer no resistance to one who is evil.”
“Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.”
The message is simple, the challenge is difficult:
Jesus is telling us to resist the cycle of violence.
We all know how that cycle works.
Violence begets violence.
Hatred begets hatred.
Retaliation leads to more retaliation.
The way we respond to violence
determines whether it increases or decreases.
It’s like that Bugs Bunny cartoon
where Elmer Fudd chases Bugs Bunny with an axe.
Bugs grabs a bigger axe and chases Elmer.
Elmer gets a pistol. Bugs gets a shotgun.
Elmer gets a cannon. Bugs gets a bigger canon.
And so on, and so on, and so on.
It’s funny in a cartoon.
But it’s devastating in the real world.
In the real world, the cycle of violence, retaliation, and hatred
leads to bullying, murder, suicide, and war.
So Jesus teaches us to end the cycle of violence,
not only because it harms our brothers and sisters,
but also because it prevents us from being one with God.
Our whole destiny gets derailed when we give in to hatred and violence.
Until we learn not to return evil for evil,
we cannot say that we are truly sons and daughters of God.
Jesus says “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father.”
This is not a threat of punishment, as in,
“You better love your enemies or you will not get to be children of God.”
This is a statement of the reality of God’s nature.
God is unconditional love.
“he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
To be a child of God means to participate in the divine nature,
to join with God in unconditional love for everyone and everything.
That’s what it means to be holy as God is holy.
It means pouring out forgiveness, compassion, honesty,
not only on those who love us,
but also on those who hurt us:
they guy who cuts us off on the freeway,
the coworker or boss who treats us unfairly,
the classmate who pushes us around at school,
even abusers, criminals, and terrorists.
This is Jesus teaching us how to love the way God loves,
greeting and forgiving even enemies and persecutors.
It is not easy.
When we think about the people who have wronged us
it is so difficult to contemplate loving them,
wishing them well,
But it can be done.
I read recently about a university professor who was also a deacon,
whose young daughter was brutally murdered.
About the time that his daughter’s murderers came to trial,
he ran into an old friend in an elevator.
The friend, not really knowing what to say,
muttered how difficult it must be to go through the trial,
reliving his great loss once again.
“Yes,” said the professor,
“but the hardest thing is trying to convince the prosecutors
that we want life imprisonment without parole
and not the death penalty.”
That professor was trying to live out this teaching from Jesus.
Love your enemies.
Pray for those who persecute you.
Offer no resistance to one who is evil.
It is not easy.
But what about justice? we might ask.
Does Jesus mean for us to become a doormat for evil
letting it walk all over us?
On the contrary,
today Jesus gives us several examples
of ways to respond to evil
without resorting to violence.
First, he says if someone slaps you on the right cheek,
turn and offer him the other one.
To be slapped on the right cheek
means either someone has given you a backhand slap
with their right hand,
the way a master would strike a servant,
or they’ve given you a slap with the left hand,
which is equally shameful,
since the left hand was used for personal hygiene.
To turn and offer the left cheek is to say,
“Here, strike me as an equal,
you cannot shame me into being less than I am.”
Next, he says if someone takes you to court over your shirt,
give him your cloak, too.
People wore only two garments in Jesus’ time,
so giving your both your shirt and your cloak means you’re naked,
turning the trial in to the joke that it is.
Jesus says if someone presses you into service for one mile
go for two miles.
It was Roman soldiers who would have been pressing people into service,
and there were many who wanted to rise up and overthrow them.
But Jesus proposes a less violent and more creative solution:
go one mile further.
Going an extra mile demonstrates an inner freedom from oppression.
Like turning the other cheek, going a second mile says,
“You can force me to go one mile,
but I exercise my freedom to go another mile.”
It takes creativity and innovation
to respond to violence without violence.
This is the kind of creativity we have seen others use through the years,
a creativity that avoids perpetuating the cycle of violence
and yet still confronts evil and injustice.
This is the creativity that we saw in in 1947,
when Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers,
decided to sign the first African American baseball player,
In fact when he signed Jackie Robinson,
he talked with him about this scripture passage,
about turning the other cheek,
because he knew that Jackie Robinson would face horrible opposition.
And he did.
He was confronted with evil on a daily basis.
Worse than most of us will ever have to deal with.
In the minor leagues he was not allowed to stay with his teammates
in the team hotel because of the color of his skin.
During spring training, the police chief threatened to cancel games
because Robinson was there.
When he came to bat for the first time in a minor league game,
the catcher told his pitcher to throw right at Robinson.
When we was called up to the majors,
teams threatened to strike rather than play against him.
He faced verbal abuse,
he received hate mail and death threats,
and in all this, Jackie Robinson offered no resistance to evil.
This is the kind of creative, nonviolent response Jesus talks about today.
Rather than react with violence,
Jackie Robinson responded with self control and superb baseball skills.
Today because of Jackie Robinson’s commitment
to offer no resistance to evil,
to turn the other cheek,
to give his cloak as well as his shirt,
and to go the extra mile,
the color barrier in baseball is no more.
Today his retired number, 42,
hangs in every major league baseball stadium.
But he was only imitating the man whose cross
hangs in every Catholic church in the world,
our savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus speaks to us today not only from the height of the mountain,
but from the height of the cross.
He brought his teaching to life through his actions.
His creative solution to violence was to offer himself up for us.
When he was arrested he offered no resistance
When he was found guilty he offered no resistance.
When he carried his cross to calvary he offered no resistance.
When they spit on him he turned the other cheek.
And from that cross he prayed for his persecutors, saying,
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
To be one with Jesus, to be his brother or sister,
is to do the same thing
If that university professor who lost his daughter can do it, we can do it.
If Jackie Robinson, who faced racial prejudice can do it, we can do it.
Jesus gave his life so that we can do it
through the strength of his Body and Blood,
so that we can end the cycle of violence and hatred
and be the children of God.