Reflection on 1 Kings 21:17-29 and Matthew 5:38-42
Today’s readings offer starkly different perspectives on conflict resolution. In the first reading, King Ahab attempts to purchase land from his neighbor Naboth, who declines because it belongs to the community and was not his to sell. Undeterred, Ahab and his wife Jezebel devise a plot to murder Naboth in order to take the land, and take an innocent man’s life.
In the Gospel reading, from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges us that “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” (Matthew 5:39b) In Jesus’ time, to strike another on the right cheek was a tremendous humiliation. The perpetrator either backhanded the other with his right hand, an extreme indignity reflecting the victim’s inferior status, or struck with the open left hand, which was used for bodily hygiene and was considered filthy.
Jesus’ response is neither submission nor violent retaliation. By turning the other cheek, the victim demonstrates his own personal freedom – the victim is in control, not the perpetrator. The perpetrator would have to choose to slap the victim as an equal, or end the confrontation. In giving the perpetrator a legitimate choice, the victim recognizes the humanity of the perpetrator. God calls us to love, and love respects the dignity of both perpetrator and victim. (See Word & Worship Workbook for Year A, pp. 397-400 for an expanded discussion)
The point of discussing the historical background is that God calls us to respond to injustice with love, not revenge. Don’t fight fire with fire, fight fire with water. God’s love is inclusive. When we love all others, we love as God loves us.
Jesus further explains what it means to act out of love: “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” Matthew 5:41-42. We are called to do more than what is necessary or required, and to give without expecting repayment or reward. Some have called this “paying it forward.”
So how do we rise above the temptations of retaliation and retribution in the face of confrontation or injustice? As a Catholic, it begins with one word: Eucharist. Whether we receive Communion at Mass or spiritual Communion from our home, it is God’s presence within us that empowers us to love in the face of hate. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us the wisdom to find peaceful solutions grounded in love and in recognition that every person is created in God’s image and likeness. (Genesis 1:27)
- Think of a time you dealt with a perpetrator. What did you do/what could you have done to take control while recognizing the other’s humanity?
- What does “fight fire with water” mean to you in your everyday life? Have I ever fought fire with water?
- Where in your life can you give without expecting payment or reward?
- Do you allow God’s presence within you to love? What would it look like if you did?
May God guide us all to be His presence in the world, and to creatively find solutions to injustice.
Peace to you and your family,