7th Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 19, 2023 

Recently, I found myself waiting in line for the cashier at a grocery store.  I was waiting because the shopper ahead of me had an agenda that did not include paying for groceries.  Each time the cashier would pick up one of the shopper’s items to scan the price, the shopper would intervene to ask if the price included a discount, was there a cheaper item available, what did the item taste like, did the cashier think that the shopper should purchase this item, and other unnecessary, time-consuming questions. 

The shopper behind me was becoming extremely agitated by the fact that the shopper in front of me had entered the checkout line before beginning the decision-making process required by shopping for groceries.  To express extreme displeasure at being made to wait, the shopper behind me began to shove me forward with a shopping cart. 

At this point, I began to regret my efforts during the pandemic to encourage people to wear masks, practice social distancing, and refrain from coughing on one another.  Instead, I began to see great value in the coronavirus pandemic: perhaps, I thought, it’s time to thin the herd. 

I might be embellishing the account of my reaction to my fellow shoppers on that day, but it is to illustrate the value of Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel reading. 

In this continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that we are to “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” (Mt. 5:39)  There are reasons to examine this statement.  Is Jesus saying that we are to grant tacit permission to those who choose to act in thoughtless, vulgar, or malevolent ways?  If so, does this make us complicit with evil in the world?  Perhaps more importantly, are we to accept willingly and passively the harm done to us by others?   

An affirmative response to any of these questions above would be deeply troubling.  It is antithetical to belief in God to permit, or participate in, evil.  It is equally at odds with the commitment to be a disciple of Jesus to engage in self-destructive behavior.  The resolution to these troubling questions is to apply Jesus’ teachings to our own expectations of how we wish to be treated by others. 

How would you like to be addressed by someone whom you wronged?  Would you want the person whom you harmed to escalate the conflict by returning the injury – even if the retributive action was no worse than your offence?  

How would you like to be treated by someone to whom you owe an unpaid debt?  Would you want to be shamed, harassed, or coerced to settle the debt? 

Jesus’ teachings do not require an impossible degree of fortitude or passivity.  Rather, his teachings require that we show to others the same decent behavior we would expect if we found ourselves in their situation.  His teachings show us how to practice this degree of compassion and forbearance as a daily habit, as well. 

It might seem counterintuitive to return good for evil, but it is the only legitimate action available to one who is committed to living a just and righteous life. To return evil for evil is to abandon any commitment to justice, peace, or virtue. I apply Groucho Marx’s rule to these situations. Grouch once said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” Jesus’ instruction to avoid retribution and anger is a warning not to join the “club” of those who are violent, vengeful, thoughtless, or irresponsible. 

What is an appropriate response to someone who is thoughtlessly annoying or distracting?  Should one try to shame the offender into practicing more considerate behavior?  Jesus said that it is obligatory to avoid adding to the moral evil in the world. 

What is the appropriate response to threats or injury?  Should one be more threatening or injurious than the aggressor? Jesus said that the righteous diffuse conflict rather than escalate it. 

Some people don’t realize how rude and oafish their behavior is; others feel entitled to do harm.  Neither of those moral deficits grants permission for one to do the same. 

Human nature has a fundamental resistance to following God’s will.  This resistance manifests itself as carelessness, rude behavior, violence, vengeance, and other selfish acts. Jesus teaches us to repent of our resistance to God’s will and, instead, to resist the attractions of evil, selfishness, and thoughtlessness (particularly, when we feel tempted to retaliate). This is what it means to “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” (Mt. 5:39) We are to resist responding to another’s evil actions with our own evil actions because to fail to do so is to collaborate with those who do us harm.

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