From the Pastor's Desk
Man of peace
Lord of everlasting peace
It occurred to me as I read the first reading for today from the Book of Leviticus, that in it we are getting a glimpse of the nature of God, and in the Gospel Jesus is revealing his own heart. In the Old Testament reading God is calling us to be a people of love and forgiveness. And certainly, God does not ask us to embody something that is not part of God’s own life. That is to say, that we can trust that God acts on what God asks us to do: God loves and offers forgiveness! Thus, we can know that though we are sinners, God loves us and we can trust that God forgives us. And in the Gospel, Jesus says “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” Surely, Jesus is saying that that is how God acts. That means that it is not God that punishes us. So often, when I visit someone sick or suffering, I hear, “I don’t know what I did wrong to deserve this!” Which seems to suggest that their suffering is caused by God or is a punishment from God. But the first reading ends with “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” God is saying, through the prophet, that that is what I do! God loves us as God loves God’s own self!
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” People have been using that line from the Bible for years to excuse or justify violence. But they get it all wrong. That law was not meant to justify violence, but to reduce violence. Previously, the law of Lamech prevailed: “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me” (Genesis 4:23). There was no balance in retribution, no equality in inflicted damage. A slap brought down the full revenge of death. “An eye for an eye” was meant to limit violence. That one could not respond with greater harm than one had received. If one cut off your finger, you could not cut off his head. The maximum punishment or retribution that one could respond with was what one had received. “An eye for an eye” meant exactly that: not a head for an eye, not a sword slash for a scratch, not a leg for a toe.
But Jesus totally raised the bar: “But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. . . But I say to you, love your enemies.” Jesus makes clear that “An eye for an eye” is itself wrong, a sinful response. And Jesus backed up his words with his actions. Remember, Jesus prayed for those who nailed him to the cross — those who literally wielded the hammer as well as all those who orchestrated his wrongful punishment and death.
Jesus challenges us to notice the recklessly abundant (prodigal!) generosity of God: the Father “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. . . For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?” Jesus sums it all up with these demanding words, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
John Shea puts it like this: “’Do not resist an evildoer’ does not mean becoming a doormat to violent people. It does not encourage us to acquiesce in our own humiliation and pain. Rather it discourages repaying evil with evil. Higher righteousness does not contribute to the spiral of violence. So this is not a passive stance. It is a proactive, highly-engaged alternative to retribution in kind.”
“Discipleship is more than a bland refusal to participate in violence. It is a new, creative, and courageous way of acting. It sees into the hidden dynamics of imposed violence, exposes them, and opens up other possibilities,” Shea adds.
Turning the other cheek sounds impossible or at least extremely difficult, perhaps even foolhardy. Only God could do that!, one might think. And that is precisely the point, that if we try to live like that we will have to fall back again and again of the help of God, that we can only imitate God by the gift of divine grace. We recognize our weakness and our power — weak alone, powerful with God. With God all things are possible.
How do we be so open to grace as to be a people of nonviolence? Perhaps these Scriptures are fortuitous (promptings of the Holy Spirit?!) as we stand ready to begin the disciplines of Lent.
Prayer and sacrifice.
Ash Wednesday is a day of profound grace as the whole Church begins and commits to the gifts of Lent. The Holy Spirit is extremely active! It is so fitting to begin this holy season with the reception of the Eucharist and the ashes of our repentance. Don’t hold back. Now is the time of salvation.
Masses: St. Stephen ---- 5:30 pm & St. Francis --- 7:00 pm
"Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord."
“Dear Padre” page courtesy of:
Mahn Funeral Home
Peaceful Ridge Cemetery
Mausoleum - Monuments - Cremation
900 Main & Mahn Ave - De Soto, MO 63020 - 636-586-2288/515 Collins Ave.-Festus, MO 63028 - 636-937-4444