"Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are people who say: This is my community, and it is my responsibility to make it better. Interweave all these communities and you really have an America that is back on its feet again. I really think we are gonna have to reassess what constitutes a 'hero'.” -- Studs Terkel
Gospel Text (Mt 5,38-42):
Jesus said to his disciples:
"You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one to him as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand him your cloak as well.
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."
Turning the other check is not just a call to passive submission to injustices. Jesus was never passive when it came to evil. There was nothing cowardly about the way he engaged with opposition. What Jesus does provide, however, is another way to resist evil that is not violent. We are to refuse to oppose evil on its own terms by defying it, not submitting to it. The challenge to us to stand up for ourselves and what is right without using violence is difficult for us because we are called to unmask the behaviors of those who wrong us as unjust. Jesus tells us how to take on not just individual evil doers but entire systems of cruelty and injustice. That is huge! But we are to maintain our human dignity and humanity by responding to oppression from the rules of God, not the rules of the oppressors, over which they hold all the power.
The most important message here is that Jesus does not provide for us a way to “win” a conflict with an enemy, but rather a way to transform the enemy. We must not let evil even define our hearts, but rather act out of love.
Now for the million dollar question, “How do we do this?”
First we need to be a constant defender of truth and human dignity. Secondly we need to learn not to worry and to trust that we are in God’s care. Third, we need to accept our weaknesses and rest on God’s power. Fourth, we need to live in joy and gladness because we have a clear vision of God’s victory. Fifth, we need to act boldly and with courage. Sixth, we need to love our enemies. Seventh, we need to become more creative and clever in our resistance. And finally, we need to be in solidarity with others who suffer by participating in the Eucharist.
St. Basil sums this idea up very well: «Believe me and you will forget the offences and insults you get from your fellow man. You will see how differently you will be named; he will be called angry and violent while you will be cited as meek and peaceful. One day, he will repent of his violence, but you will never regret your meekness».