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To turn the other Cheek

A Reflection of Lk 6:27-38

By Fr. Ron

For many people, today’s gospel passage may be the most difficult list of the teachings of Jesus recorded in the gospels. It appears in slightly different context in both Matthew and Luke, but the message is direct and clear: disciples of Jesus are called live very differently from the ways of the world.

In 2008, I was invited to spend a month in Sri Lanka giving retreats to our sister community, the Good Shepherd Sisters. For most of the month, I was busy every day giving talks, offering Mass and being available to the Sisters. But there was one day on which I was free and the Sisters were eager to show me a bit of their country.

At that time, we were the city of Kandy in the center of the island nation. There is a famous Buddhist shrine in Kandy called the Temple of the Tooth. Tourists cannot enter it but it is beautiful on the outside. As we were walking in front of it, we saw one of the Buddhist monks in his bright saffron robes standing on the steps. One of the Sisters went over to him and spoke to him. Then she motioned for us to come over and she introduced me to him

He didn’t speak English, so she had to translate. She told him who I was and why I was in the country. On hearing that I was a priest, he said in broken English: “Oh! Christian! The ones who turn the other cheek.” He had never met a Christian before. The only thing he knows about us is that we are supposed to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us. Needless to say, I was embarrassed. I am not sure that we are very good at that.

But what does turning the cheek mean in everyday life? Take a moment to ask yourself: can I recall an experience when I actually did turn the other cheek? Can I call an experience when I could have turned the other cheek and did not?

What did Jesus mean when he said: “To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well.” It’s an example of what it means to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

Is there anyone you would consider an enemy? Or do you know people who don’t like you or hate you? Are there people who spread false rumors about you or talk behind your back? Are there people who exclude you or ignore you? We are being challenged to love in the way that God loves.

Jesus goes on to say:

For if you love those who love you,�what credit is that to you?�Even sinners love those who love them.�And if you do good to those who do good to you,�what credit is that to you?�Even sinners do the same.�If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment,�what credit is that to you?�Even sinners lend to sinners,�and get back the same amount.�But rather, love your enemies and do good to them,

What does Jesus mean when he says to love them? He is not saying you have to be best friends with them. He is not saying that you have to forget how they hurt you. But he is saying that you have the ability to choose how you will respond to them. He is saying that we can choose to not respond in the same way. As we sometimes put it, we can choose the high road.

The Greek word for love that is used in this passage is agape. It means the kind of love that is willing to sacrifice one’s own good for the sake of the other. It is not a sentimental or romantic love. It is about more than how I feel about the other person. It’s the kind of love that recognizes that I have a choice.

St. John Eudes, our founder, always told the members of our Congregation that the number one rule is charity. “Charity in all things.” I don’t have to like the people who have hurt me, but I can always choose to deal with them in a charitable manner.

Charity would dictate that I don’t try to retaliate. I don’t try to make them miserable. I don’t try to destroy their good name. I don’t tell everyone how unfairly I was treated. The ways of responding charitably to our enemies could go on and on

In preaching about this gospel passage, Pope Francis said:

“Having been loved by God, we are called to love in return; having been forgiven, we are called to forgive; having been touched by love, we are called to love without waiting for others to love first; having been saved graciously, we are called to seek no benefit from the good we do.”

I fear that some of us have listened to these challenging teachings of Jesus and decided that they are just too difficult. For many of us, the question is not have I succeeded in meeting these challenges. The real question is: do I really try?

Do I try to forgive those who hurt me, or do I hang on to my anger or hurt?

Do I try to be kind to those who are not kind to me?

Do I turn the other cheek when people say or do hurtful things?

Do I make a sincere effort to share what I have with those in need?

Do I try to stop judging other people?

Am I really committed to being merciful?

These teachings of Jesus are very challenging. I think that they are meant to challenge us every day. We can never become satisfied and say, “I keep the commandments, so I am doing ok.” If anything is clear in today’s gospel reading, Jesus is looking for more than “just ok” from his disciples.

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