There is a great temptation in all of us to develop a caricature of Jesus as non-demanding, a Jesus who is overly docile and passive. We can often imagine and invent a Jesus whose actions and words conforms to our will and to our idea of life. As a result we manipulate the Gospel to fit our self-made ideals. But this Jesus is lifeless and can be an excuse for us to be spiritually stagnant and lukewarm.
The real Jesus is far more provoking and far more challenging to our tendencies for comforts and for the easy way. In this Sunday’s Gospel if we are really open to let Jesus himself speak to us we will discover a great challenge. We will discover a Jesus who demands us to go beyond the narrow confines of our ego and selfishness to discover true discipleship.
The first exhortation in the Gospel that Jesus says to us is to turn our cheek when people strike us. It takes great inner strength and courage to offer our other cheek to those who are persecuting us or being violent to us. It is much easier to run away or even to retaliate. Similarly it takes great character and magnanimity of heart to have the generosity to not only give our clothes to those in need but also to give our cloak as well. Here, Jesus is really telling us to give everything we have and to risk even our own securities and comforts for love of others. If you think about this, it takes great heroism. Likewise when he demands us to go those extra miles for service he is calling us to be true servants who always do more than what is expected.
These exhortations and other ones in the Gospel show us that Jesus expects us to step beyond our own limited notions of bravery, love and service. They teach us of a Jesus who is very demanding. But we know he demands only what he himself demands of himself.
As much as these commands outline to us attitudes of the disciple it also reveals Jesus’s own disposition and inner life to us. They show Jesus’ total gift of self to us. For despite all our sins and even our hostility to him, he does not flint, he offers us his other cheek. He stands his ground in patience waiting for us to come to our senses. He not only gives us his clothes and cloak, he gives us his body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist; his very being and life. He not only walks with us two extra miles he walks with us every second of the day bringing us to heaven. He walked the way of the Cross for us. It is this going out of himself in love that he invites us to imitate.
We know he will never demand anything from us without his own strength and grace to help us. Jesus may be demanding but he is not unreasonable nor is he intent on weighing us down with commands. Instead he helps us himself to live the way of love. It is in his strength that we live out our daily struggle against sin and self-complacency. It is he who carries the heavier yoke making our burden light. Let us keep our eyes on him, trusting in his mercy and love to help us in all that he demands of us.
Gospel Reflection for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matthew 5:38-48)