The gospel today and for the past few Sunday’s has been taken from the Sermon on the Mount which is contained in Chapters 5-7 of St. Matthew’s gospel. These chapters are a collection made by St. Matthew of the moral teaching of Jesus, arranged under certain headings and provided with an introduction and a conclusion. Such a collection would have been useful for teaching purposes in the early Church and this may be one of the reasons Matthew incorporated it into his gospel. The Sermon on the Mount remains the most comprehensive discourse of Jesus of which we have any record, and it was regarded by St. Matthew as a fair summary of what Jesus taught. We are unlikely to find a better picture of Jesus’ moral teaching. They are the words through which we should still hear his voice.
Today’s gospel passage should be read as part of the overall moral teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, which we have been listening to for the past few Sundays. Jesus begins with the Beatitudes. He tells us that Christian values include: a sense of our dependence on God, mercy, gentleness, sincerity and peace. He goes on to tell us that we are “Salt of the Earth” and “Light of the World.” In other words we all have the potential to have a good influence on each other. In last Sunday’s gospel he asked us to control our anger, to be forgiving, and to avoid immoral relationships. In today’s gospel he asks us to add generosity and love to that list. The moral teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is of a high standard, and it makes demands on us.
Jesus certainly intended his guidelines for Christian living to be taken seriously. So what do we make of “turning the other cheek” or “loving our enemies?”
One Scripture scholar put it this way regarding “turning the other cheek:”
It is hardly possible to treat it as a ruling to be directly applied in all appropriate circumstances. It is not only that we may not be good enough to put it into practice, but it may not be, in the confused and distorted state of human affairs in which we live, always the best thing to do. The qualities Jesus sets before us in the context of an imperfect society like the one we live in is: patience, detachment from self interest and pride, and respect for other people however objectionable they may be. These qualities must give character to Christian action even at a lowly level; even if all we can manage is a half-frustrated effort to overcome, or at least to moderate, our natural pride, resentment, and impatience for Christ’s sake. In making that effort, if it is honestly made, we have obeyed the command of Jesus. (C.H.Dodd)
So based on today’s gospel our task is to respect and love one another. Sometimes that may be more than we are capable of doing. But if we are honest it is usually within our grasp.
Let us pray that the qualities Jesus outlines for us in the Sermon on the Mount will be part of our daily lives.