Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
By reflecting on the Word of God we come to know, even more personally, the One who is the “Word of God made flesh,” Jesus Christ. The Scriptures give us a unique window through which to encounter Jesus, and in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters five through seven, we find an awesome glimpse into the mind and heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
His Gospel is called the teaching Gospel because Matthew arranged the words of Jesus in an orderly manner. To all catechists, and to all who love the Word, this Gospel is for you! In chapters five through seven, the most challenging of Our Lord’s teaching shines through: the Beatitudes; Our Lord’s teaching on marriage; and His teaching against revenge.
The eight Beatitudes compel the followers of Jesus not to model their lives only on the Ten Commandments, but to go beyond the law, to be peacemakers, merciful, poor in spirit, to thirst for justice and righteousness, etc. These moral imperatives are made possible because Jesus himself lived this way, even to the cross.
In Our Lord’s teaching on marriage, which Saint Pope John Paul II developed into a profound reflection on human love and relationships, nicknamed the “Theology of the Body,” Jesus challenged the men of his time, to whom Moses gave permission for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus, the new law giver, does not give this permission; rather he referred back to Adam and Eve and told men that they may not divorce.
Notice he was speaking to men – because women at that time had no right to divorce. Notice also how Jesus addressed the men, telling them that wives were not possessions, but spouses, not their property, but their equal. Jesus’ strong teaching on marriage reveals His interior conviction that the marriage of a man and woman is from God Himself, and no man may tamper with it! This teaching has been the teaching of the Church until this very day, and continues to inspire us to believe that marriage is a life-long and sacred union, which ought to be respected as much as humanly possible. The extraordinary synod of bishops held this month in Rome will affirm this powerful teaching on the sanctity and noble character of marriage.
The third window into Jesus’ very personal desire for us is His teaching against retaliation. The words and stories he uses are very much His own. “You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but what I say is offer no resistance.” Jesus commands us to be like him, to love like him, even our enemies, and to wish good, even to those who do evil.
His three examples are quite clear: “Turn the other check;” “go the extra mile;” and “give the shirt off your back.” I have paraphrased these expressions based on popular parlance, but what Jesus actually said is very different.
He did not say “Turn the other cheek;” he said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek offer him the left.” A strike on the right cheek could only be done as a back-handed slap, sending a clear signal that one is superior and the other inferior.
Jesus asked us to be defiant in the face of such cruelty, and not accept an inferior status, but rather demand that the oppressor strike as an equal!
Likewise, Jesus did not say “Go the extra mile” as if to mean we must give more. Rather, Our Lord knew the unjust law that allowed Roman soldiers to force a Jew to carry his bag, but not for more than one mile. Jesus thus told his countrymen to go the “extra mile,” so as to buy back a man’s internal freedom from his oppressor, to embarrass him, and to honor the innate dignity of one unjustly treated.
Lastly, Jesus did not say, “Give the shirt off your back.” Rather he said, “If someone sues for your jacket, offer him your shirt as well.” Thus, instead of being a victim of another’s injustice, if one turns and gives him one’s shirt as
well, one shows him a fearless love with the hope that it will
awaken justice in his oppressor.
By means of these three examples, Our Lord is clear: no retaliation, no inferior status, be defiant in face of oppression, have a non-violent attitude, refuse to accept unjust treatment,
and never return evil for evil. How appropriate is Our Lord’s imperatives today in the face of ISIS and other hateful ideologies.
By peering into the window of the Word of God, we see clearly the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ, in all the splendor of truth. In Matthew five through seven, we hear Our Lord’s commands to go beyond the Ten Commandments to the Beatitudes so as to be truly happy; we are asked to give marriage the proper sacred place Our Lord wanted it to have in our world; and never to retaliate, but we are commanded to face every injustice with a loving defiance.
The Word of God gives us this very personal glimpse into the heart and mind of Our Lord Jesus Christ and, in fact, we see the very way He lives His own life. This inspires us to follow Him even more closely, even to the cross!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Gregory John Mansour
Bishop of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn