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02.23.2020 Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

The Freedom of the Spirit


Matthew 5:38-48

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


The Context

As we have seen previously, when Jesus teaches his New Law He does three things: either He expands its meaning, re-interprets it, or changes the Law altogether. And to see how He does this, Matthew gives us a few examples.

The so called, “Lex Talionis” is a principle developed in early Babylonian law[1] and present in both biblical[2] and early Roman Law. It states that criminals should receive as punishment precisely those injuries and damages they had inflicted upon their victims. Many early societies applied this “eye-for-an-eye” principle literally.

We would think that this ‘tit-for-tat’ exchange is a barbaric law of retribution. However, in its origin this law was meant to limit to the extension of disproportionate violence, limiting the legal response to evil with a punishment just equal and not greater than the one inflicted. Actually, “An Eye for an Eye” claims proportionality as a moral principle of punishment.

And Jesus, changes this law with his “But-I-say-to-you” sentence adding four surprising responses:

1. “Do not resist the evildoer” and “offer the other cheek”.

Common sense tells us that hatred will not be quenched by “getting even”, but, are not the indications of Jesus exaggerated? Should we take literally the words of Jesus?

To understand this, we can make reference to the other two occasions in the New Testament where someone is stricken in the cheek (most probably the left cheek). One is about Jesus[3], and the other about Paul[4]. None of them seems to have allowed to receive a second punch, showing that the literal interpretation of His words might not be the right approach to his understanding. On the other hand, Jesus –who did not let the soldier strike his second cheek-, kept quiet when he was judged by the Sanhedrin[5]. Likewise, Paul, too received many lashes[6] showing thus, that he was eager to lay down his life as a witness to the Gospel.

Far from inviting to the literal application of laws, Jesus wants a change of heart in his disciples so that love for neighbour may replace the old law of retaliation.

2. The second example applies the same principle to the case of stealing goods.

How unjust would it be to be obliged to give your watch as well to someone who steals your cellular phone! Rather than this, what Jesus seems to teach us is that goods are as nothing compared to the forgiveness we may offer to whomever deprives us of them.

3. The third example makes reference to the obligation of carrying a Roman soldier’s baggage. This was duty of any person. Most probably, this is what happened to Simon from Cyrene, when he was forced to carry Jesus’ cross to Calvary (Mt. 27:32).

4. Matthew concludes these explanations with the fourth example about money, warning us once again that money should not be considered as anything like as valuable as a human being is.

In the Old Testament, there is a contrast between the interpretations of the same rules. For example, while we find laws encouraging a good behavior towards enemies[7], in the Book of Exodus, a more recent record of the same law in the Book of Deuteronomy applies this not to the enemies, but to one’s neighbour[8].

Thus, Jesus seems to come closer to the original and most genuine meaning of the law. Knowing that asking to love one’s enemies is a great sacrifice, He offers the best of rewards one can imagine: nothing less than the Father’s love. This love is for all humanity because God is the Creator of Light and Life (rain water falling from the sky).

The reference to violence is a historical reference to the concrete situation of persecution of the community of the gospel writer, Matthew.

The “Q” document (written record of ‘logia’ –sayings- of Jesus) is the second original text that Matthew uses to write his Gospel, the first being the Gospel of St. Mark.

In the “Q” document we find written: “be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful”. However, Matthew wants to make clear this point: love is universal, it is directed to all peoples, and it involves all aspects of life. And so, he changes the original sentence of “Q” and transforms it into “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Therefore, rather than seeing here an invitation to moral perfectionism, we should see a call to fashion our entire life in the image of the Father.

Jesus makes it plain clear, love should be shown to all, not just to one’s acquaintances, friends or relatives, but even to one’s enemies, too.


Take, Lord, receive. All my liberty. My memory, understanding, my entire will! Give me only your LOVE, and your Grace,

that's enough for me! Your love and your grace, are enough for me!

Take Lord, receive, all I have and possess. You have given unto me, now I return it. Give me only your love, and your grace,

that's enough for me! Your love and your grace, are enough for me!

Take Lord receive, all is yours now. Dispose of it, wholly according to your will. Give me only your love, and your grace,

that's enough for me! Your love and your grace, are enough for me!


When we think about this, the freedom of Jesus is astonishing.

1. He does not seem ever too worried about norms or laws. If we show too much worry about them, probably we need to understand better the freedom offered by Jesus.

2. As much as the multiplication of rules does not help a daughter love her mother more or a son love his father, Jesus does not believe that the accumulation of laws helps a person to relate better to God. In fact, we can recall that Jesus invites “all who are tired and overburdened, to find rest” in Him (Mt. 11:28-30).

3. He values mercy more precious than the fulfilment of the law (Mt. 9: 13; 12: 7; 23: 23), because the “Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath”.

4. At times He fulfills the law in order not to give offense (Mt. 17: 24-27).

5. In his struggle against legalism, Jesus is even able to contradict the law of the Sabbath, one of the greatest and most respected Jewish institutions.

The Apostles understood Jesus’ freedom when they took the first and probably most challenging dilemma of the time: should the followers of the Way enforce the Law of Moses on pagans or not? In other words: should Christians be a schismatic branch of the Jews or should they forget about the Jewish mark of ownership (the “Jewish baptism” as it were): the practice of circumcision?

We know about their decision and since then, the name of Jesus has been made known to all peoples, and all peoples have access to the salvation Jesus came to bring to all, regardless of their legal frame of mind.

John. 8: 36

“So, if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”.


[1] The Code of Hammurabi (also known as the Codex Hammurabi and Hammurabi's Code), created c. 1780 B.C., is one of the earliest sets of laws found and one of the best preserved examples of this type of document from ancient Mesopotamia. The code is a collection of the legal decisions made by Hammurabi during his reign as king of Babylon, inscribed on a monument. The text contains a list of crimes and their various punishments, as well as settlements for common disputes and guidelines for citizens' conduct. It focuses on theft, property damage, women's rights, marriage rights, children's rights, slave rights, murder, death, and injury. [2] Ex. 21: 23-27. “If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. When a slave-owner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth.” [3] Jn. 18: 23 “Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’” [4] Acts. 23: 3. “At this Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting there to judge me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law you order me to be struck?’” [5] Mt. 26: 67 [6] 2Cor. 11: 24-25 [7] Ex. 23: 4-5: “When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free”. [8] Dt. 22: 1-4: “You shall not watch your neighbour’s ox or sheep straying away and ignore them; you shall take them back to their owner. If the owner does not reside near you or you do not know who the owner is, you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until the owner claims it; then you shall return it. You shall do the same with a neighbour’s donkey; you shall do the same with a neighbour’s garment; and you shall do the same with anything else that your neighbour loses and you find. You may not withhold your help. You shall not see your neighbour’s donkey or ox fallen on the road and ignore it; you shall help to lift it up”.

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