GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Okay, these are very familiar passages, but again this is some of the most difficult material in all of the Gospel, because Jesus is saying very strange things, very controversial, difficult, or hard to understand things, like “don't resist one who is evil.”
What does that mean?
Does that mean if someone is trying to rob me that I should just let them rob me, or if someone’s abusing me I should let them abuse me?
What is he talking about there?
Or “love your enemies.”
How am I supposed to love someone who is my enemy?
How am I supposed to feel affection for them if they've not only hurt me, but have tried to harm me, kill me, say bad things about me or slander me?
What in the world is Jesus getting at here?
And then finally, the most problematic of all, what in the world does Jesus mean when he says “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect?”
I mean, isn’t to err human — the famous saying goes?
How is it even possible for him to command me to do something that I know is impossible, namely for me to be perfect.
What does that mean?
To be flawless?
I am a human being, I am a sinner.
What is he talking about here and why does he bring this section to an end in this way?
So what I am going to do is just walk through each one of these, try to unpack them, put them in their first century Jewish context and try to shed some light on their meaning.
So let’s go back up to verse 38, the first one for this week — which is the the fifth antithesis.
So Jesus begins by saying “you've heard that it was said [by Moses namely] an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
What's that talking about?
Well that is a quotation from the book of Exodus 21:24 in which Moses set up a law that forbids excessive retaliation or excessive vengeance.
So in other words, if somebody knocks out your tooth or pokes out your eye, you can’t kill their whole family, you can't murder them, which would be an excessive retribution.
The punishment has to fit the crime.
It can't exceed the gravity or severity of the crime.
That is what the image of an eye for an eye, life for a life, tooth for a tooth, that’s what it means.
Sometimes people think that that passage is an encouragement to vengeance by the Old Testament, but it is actually the opposite.
It's restricting punishment so that it doesn't exceed the crime itself.
So that's what the old law did, it forbid excessive retaliation.
But Jesus is saying the new law that I'm giving goes way beyond that.
It actually enjoins excessive generosity in the face of evil, in the face of harm, in the face of injury.
So let's see what that means.
Jesus says “but I say to you, do not resist one who is evil.”
Now that's the problematic verse that usually throws people off.
Is Jesus giving license here to abuse?
Is he trying to call his disciples to be doormats to be walked all over by everyone?
It is understandable that it might sound that way, unless you put the verse in context.
In other words, if you want to know what an open-ended saying like that means, you should look at the examples that Jesus gives.
So he doesn't go on to say “if your husband is beating you, let him keep beating you.”
That's not the image that he gives there.
Let's look at each one of the examples that he gives.
The first image.
He says this, “if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
So what does this mean, to strike on the right cheek?
Well if you go back to the book of Job 16:10 or the book of Lamentations 3:30, you will see that the imagery of striking someone on the right cheek is like the gravest form of insult you can give someone.
It's a kind of public humiliation of another person.
So what Jesus is saying here is that if someone insults you or humiliates you, how do you respond to that?
You give them the other cheek as well.
So it's a kind of totally unexpected and radical response to being insulted by another person.
You’ll see this is also another example of — we’ve seen this before in the Sermon on the Mount —hyperbole, where Jesus is exaggerating in order to make a point.
Stay with me and you'll see what I mean.
Look at the next one, the next example.
“If someone sues you for your coat, let him have your cloak as well.”
Now we might just think that means if someone wants one garment, give him the other garment too.
But in a first century context it is a little more technical than that, because what Jesus actually says is “if someone sues you for your chitōn,
which is your undergarment.
In other words, your underwear, which would honestly be a ridiculous lawsuit.
Someone is trying to take everything you have if they're suing you for your undergarment, if they’re suing you for your underwear.
What Jesus says is “if they sue you for your undergarment, [do something completely unexpected] give them your outer garment as well,” your himation
is the Greek, your outer cloak as well.
In other words, give them everything so you have nothing left over.
So if someone tries to take your essential clothing, your undergarment, you give them the cloak as well.
Okay, look at the next example.
“If someone forces you to go one mile, go two.”
So this is an example that makes sense in a first century Jewish context as well.
He's talking about conscripted labor here.
The classic case of this is Simon of Cyrene.
So the Roman soldier is bringing Jesus out to Gethsemane and he gets Simon of Cyrene, who was a passerby, he says “come over here,” carry this cross, go to Golgotha.
They had the authority to conscript you for labor like that.
So what Jesus is saying here is that if someone — in this case it would probably be a Roman — would conscript you to go one mile, how do you respond to that insult?
How do you respond to that injury?
He says with radical and excessive generosity.
In other words, I'll give you two miles as well.
Notice what we’re seeing here.
The pattern in each one of these is you respond to injury with generosity, you respond to insult with an unexpected generosity, and you can see that in each one of these of responses, you give them the other cheek totally unexpected, you give them your other garment totally unexpected, you go the extra mile — that has become a saying — totally unexpected.
Most people stop there when they try to explain this passage.
But if you notice, generosity, the theme, continues with the next two examples.
The passage doesn’t stop there, look at the next two examples.
“Give to him who begs from you, and don't refuse him who would borrow from you.”
Again, two more cases of giving something.
In this case, someone begs from you, so how do we respond to that?
With generous almsgiving, not figure out if they are worthy of it or if they deserve it.
If someone asks from you, if they beg from you, give to them.
And there is actually a passage in the Old Testament from Deuteronomy 15 — this is standard Jewish law — it says “open wide your hand to your brother who is in need.”
So don't just give grudgingly, but give generously.
And the same thing here, if someone wants to borrow from you, what do you do?
You loan the money, you give them the money.
So lend to him who asks for a loan.
So in each one of these cases, what Jesus is talking about is the way we respond to evil in the world, the way we respond to injury, the way we respond to other people's need, is with radical generosity; not with vengeance, not with retaliation, not with violence, but with generosity.
And you'll see the same principle is going to be passed on in the early Church by St. Paul.
He sums it up in Romans 12:21 when he says “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
That is Jesus's recipe here.
In other words, quench the evil with a radical and unexpected generosity in the face of such evil, and also alleviate suffering with a radical and unexpected generosity in the face of suffering or depravation or want.
So what does that mean?
Jesus is going way beyond, way beyond, the Old Testament law of just justice.
Now he's moving to a New Testament law of mercy and generosity.
Before we move on to the six antithesis, I need to be clear on something here.
If you look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there is a very important paragraph that deals with this particular text about “do not resist evil.”
In the Catechism, paragraph 2263-2267 and 2302-2303, the Church has a teaching which she calls legitimate defense.
And the Church makes very clear in it's tradition that Jesus’ teaching in this particular antithesis does not exclude legitimate self-defense, either of one's own person or even more importantly of the duty to defend others who have been entrusted to us, whether it's a father's duty to defend his wife and his children in the face of an unjust aggressor, or the state's duty to defend its citizens in the face of an unjust aggressor.
So Jesus’ teaching here is not at odds with legitimate self-defense, and if we had more time we could go into where that is in Scripture, but you can look at the Catechism if you want a layout of that.
But what Jesus is getting at here is that in the new law we don't stop purely at an “eye for an eye” or a “tooth for a tooth” with retribution.
We transcend retribution by giving back not vengeance or justice, but in this case giving mercy and giving generosity.
So that's the posture of response to insult and injury that he wants his disciples to embody in the new covenant.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So notice again here, Paul’s ecclesiology, his theology of the Church, is that just as there should only be one temple in Jerusalem, so too the Church is one temple. There’s one dwelling place of God. There’s supposed to be a unity to the Church as a temple of God. And so therefore, those Corinthians who are splitting up the Church into factions—who are diving the Church by means of their schism—are in a sense destroying the temple of God. And he warns them, if you destroy the temple of God, God will destroy you because God’s temple is holy and that temple you are.
Before we move on to the next verses, just in order to illustrate this point, I’d love to bring a parallel from the book of Kings. So if you go back to 1 Kings 8—this is not in the lectionary, obviously, but it’s a very famous text. It’s the account of Solomon’s dedication of the temple in Jerusalem in 1 Kings 8. So if you recall, David himself—although he was the most famous king—he didn’t build a sanctuary for God. It was Solomon, his son, who in the book of Kings goes about building the sanctuary, building the first temple, sometimes called Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. And the reason Solomon does that is so that the temple can be a dwelling place for God on Earth. And you see this is very vividly and concretely depicted in 1 Kings 8, which describes the completion of the temple. And it says this in 1 Kings 8:10-12, itt says that:
...when the priests came out of the holy place…
...which is a name for the inner sanctuary...
...a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.
Then Solomon said,
“The Lord has set the sun in the heavens,
but has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.
I have built thee an exalted house,
a place for thee to dwell in for ever.” (1 Kings 8:10-13)
Alright, so what’s going on here? This passage was very famous. Paul would have known it well. And what it describes is the fact that when the temple was completed, one of the ways you knew that it was the temple was because the cloud of the divine glory, which is like the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day. Remember the time of the exodus? It’s sometimes called the shekinah
, the “glory cloud.” That’s a later term. It’s not found in the Bible, but it’s one that most people are familiar with from rabbinic literature. The shekinah
, the glory cloud, the cloud of divine glory, comes down in the temple and fills the temple with the glory of God. And that’s what sets it apart. It’s God’s Spirit, His glory, dwelling in the temple that makes it holy and sets it apart. So in this case, even the priest can’t stand to minister in it because of the cloud of divine glory.
So Paul’s taking the same imagery—the holy place in which the Spirit of God dwells—and he’s applying it to the Corinthians. That’s what you are as the Church. You might look just like a ragtag body of believers. You’re poor, you’re not very wise, and you’re not very noble. You gather together maybe in some little assembly room or in someone’s house in order to hear the Good News and worship the Lord. But the reality is you are the temple of God, because God’s Spirit dwells in you, and that’s why there’s a call for there to be unity within the temple...and not to desecrate the dwelling place of God’s Spirit.
Alright, so with that background in mind, if you go back to 1 Corinthians then, the reading ends for today by saying, therefore:
Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. (1 Corinthians 3:18)
Notice once again, Paul’s use of that technical terminology I mentioned in a previous video of “this age,” meaning “this world,” this fallen world. It’s a Jewish technical term, because Paul says “the wisdom of this world”—see, he uses both this age and this world, the old creation—”is foolishness with God.” For he says… “catches the wise in their craftiness” and:
The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.
So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apol′los or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:20-23)
So he seems to be returning there to that earlier theme about divisions between Paul and Cephas and Apol’los and say, look, all of you—to the extent that you are at the temple of God—you are one. And you belong to Christ insofar as you are members of His one body, and Christ belongs to God the Father. So the principle of unity for the Church is precisely the unity of Christ with God, the unity of the Father and the Son. So the Church should be as unified as the Father and the Son are with one another, which is a Pauline version of exactly what Jesus says in the Gospel of John, right? John 17...Jesus’ final prayer is for the unity of the Church. And He says, I pray, Father, that they might be one as you and I are one. Which that unity is, of course, the unity of the Spirit. It’s the Spirit that is the bond between the Father and the Son. And it’s the Spirit that dwells within the Church and makes it into one Church.
And by the way, this is one of the reasons why one of the articles of faith in the Apostles Creed is “I believe in one holy Catholic church.” Notice two adjectives there—the oneness of the Church and the holiness of the Church—are both adjectives that flow out the Church’s identity as the temple of God, and that’s what Paul is describing here.
So I just bring this up...I emphasize that element because again, if you live in a contemporary western Christian context, you are so…we are so used to there being divisions within the Church that it isn't really a scandal for us anymore. It’s easy, I should say, to become desensitized to the scandal of division within the Church. But for Paul, the idea that the Church is one is an essential witness to it being the fulfillment of the temple in Jerusalem...because there was only ever one sanctuary, one temple. If you look in the book of Deuteronomy 12, God says, there’s going to be one place for you to dwell—that’s going to be the one place of sacrifice. It’s what’s going to unite the twelve tribes of Israel around that one sanctuary. And therefore, if the Church really is the new temple of God, it too has to have both holiness—it needs to be set apart, that’s one of the marks of the Church—but it also needs to have oneness. It needs to have unity.
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