In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus radically subverts our ideas of justice. When we follow the Lord’s teaching, we come to see that our conceptions of proper disposition and conduct must be aligned with the divine will in order for us to progress in happiness and enjoyment of fellowship with God.
Our first reaction when someone does violence to us, physically, psychologically, or economically, is to respond in kind. I would even venture to say our inclination is often to respond disproportionately. If someone strikes us on the cheek, we want to hit them back even harder. We have all witnessed the “sue ‘em for everything they have” mindset in civil litigation, another example of a disproportionate response. Our culture of sin and vice encourages fantasies about retributive violence and glorifies vigilante justice. None of these modern ideas of justice carry any brief with the teachings of Jesus and His Church.
For many, when they witness injustice in the world, there is a rush to take up arms. This type of armament can be in the form of guns and gangs or social ostracizing and silencing. It seems as though asymmetrical and perturbed forms of retributive violence are part and parcel of the human condition. Jesus acknowledges as much through His pivotal teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. One of the problems with this condition is that we have come to almost revel in it and joy in perpetually rationalizing and taking matters into our own hands. We believe that we can always make things right by taking our own path. We can show the other person or put them in their place. Things will be put right and we are to do the racking, drawing, and quartering. Jesus gives us the better way.
We can hold too fast to that which is temporal and fleeting at the expense of the eternal and permanent. Should we give up our lives to save it from the thief stealing our cloak? Should we involve ourselves in endless cycles of legal trauma trying to get back that which is already gone? Again, our sense of justice formed in the absence of divine light might indicate we answer in the affirmative. Jesus asks us to think again.
Our sense of something being wrong when we experience injustice is a good thing. We should feel it in our souls. We should be moved to compassion. The questions of how we think about this and what exactly we do about it are important. If we are moved and motivated solely by passion, we will end up only serving ourselves and not God or our fellow man. On the other hand, if we listen carefully to the teachings of Jesus, we can begin to see the world through the lens of divine justice. We can step into the path of the Lord and walk with the One who was treated with supreme injustice. This walk does not move us to complacency or apathy. Quite the opposite. It moves us to rightly ordered action that enures to the benefit of our souls and the souls of others who suffer.