One of my more trying experiences was having to sit through two hours of the movie Frozen. Certainly Frozen has some really cool things like ice explosions and Disney princesses: but it also has a guy called Olaf – no doubt very cute for 5 year olds, but fairly annoying to 35 year old men. One reason is that Olaf goes through life being a cutesy happy-clappy pollyanna who gets repeatedly blown up by his enemies.
Jesus can sometimes seem irritating in the same way: if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. I mean, really? If our child gets hit at school, will we tell him he should next time offer the other cheek as well? If someone sideswipes my 1969 Holden HT Monaro GTS 350, do I drive it over to his place saying “Please sir, you missed this side, here is a screwdriver to annihilate my paintwork.”?
Why does Jesus talk like this? As usual, the difficulty is not with Jesus but with us. When he gets slapped on the cheek for talking back to the High Priest, he doesn’t offer his other cheek, but says if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me? Clearly then Jesus is for justice and self-defence, and not about being a defenceless fluffball.
What he does mean goes to the heart of today’s readings: to become like God by loving everyone regardless of what they do – even to me. While this too sounds silly and unjust, a little reflection shows us how sensible Jesus’ teaching really is. For what would a society look like which is consumed with people avenging each other? It’s dangerous – a society which lives like gangs. The same can be said for people who harbour hatred. Of course, we can sometimes have good reason to hate someone – but if we allow our just anger to become a consuming hatred, it consumes us, and our life, and poisons our relationships with those we love. And the cycle continues.
A second reason is that even when we try to get back at them in a ‘just’ way, we tend to go too far. Just look at the arguments we have. We disagree, then what the other has said cuts us a bit too much, so we cut them back a bit but they think that is too much, so they cut back more…you see? Being sinners, we can’t help ourselves.
And a third reason is of course that if we are determined to impose a just punishment on the other, shouldn’t then God do the same to us? We offend God all the time. Wouldn’t he be in his rights then to punish us in this life or the next? That’s what Hell is: justice for those who do evil. Hell is another reason why we should hesitate getting obsessed about our offender: because don’t worry – justice is coming to them. God will punish them for what they have done to us, and if they don’t change, they will burn: as St Paul teaches us, If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple.
Loving our enemies doesn’t mean we pretend we weren’t hurt, or we force ourselves to have a feeling of love, or even, with big things, to forgive immediately. But it does mean deciding to reject hatred, asking God to help me forgive one day because it’s too hard, and even making a small act of love for that person each day, be it a tiny service, or simply saying a Hail Mary for them each day. These kind of actions, while painful, are also hugely liberating. I discover there is more to me than my hurt, and I become free to do the right thing regardless. To be released from evil – to be like God.