17 June 2024

On not stabbing strangers

11th Week OT (M)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Jesus is doing one of the thing he does best – teaching us how to think and act beyond the rules and regs. Think about it: the everyday rules we're used to following all have some principled foundation. They are all founded on a deeper, broader idea of what is right and wrong to do. Ideally, if we follow the rules, we're enacting the deeper principle. But sometimes we get trapped in following the rules just to follow them; we behave in the prescribed way w/o knowing the why of the rule or custom. E.g., when we meet a stranger, we shake hands. It's almost automatic. This custom started in medieval Europe as a way of showing the other guy that you aren't holding a knife. Apparently, it's uncouth to stab someone on meeting them for the first time! Now, let's say you shook the stranger's hand and then stabbed him with your left hand. When others react angrily, you don't say, “Well, I shook his hand! I followed the rules.” Yes, you did. You followed the hand-shaking rule. But you missed the deeper principle the rule is meant to enact: trust is vital when strangers meet. Jesus is trying to teach us that the Law, while necessary, is fulfilled in the law of love.

St. Jerome sums it up nicely: “[B]y doing away [with] all retaliation, our Lord cuts off the beginnings of sin. So the Law corrects faults, the Gospel removes their occasions.” What are the “beginnings of sin”? Anger, a need for revenge, feelings of betrayal. The guy you stabbed is angry, so he stabs you back. That's an eye for an eye. No more, no less. Jesus says that stabbing you to avenge his hurt is wrong. The better way is for him to forgive you your sin. Why is this better? B/c the whole point being-here right now is to get to heaven. By stabbing you with vengeance in his heart, he violates the law of love and threatens his place at the Wedding Feast. All for a temporary sense of satisfaction. “Eye for an eye” corrects your fault. Bet you don't surprise-stab anyone again! But the law of love short circuits his impulse to retaliate, thus saving his immortal soul from damage. Deepest in the Law is the law of love – always and everywhere will the best for others. Yes, follow the rules. But understand that the rules are there to enact that which is surest to get us back to God: love God, love self, love neighbor.   

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