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Teaching about retaliation

Gospel Reading: 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.”

“Eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” from Lv 24:20, is not a call for vengeance and retribution but is meant to contain or moderate retaliation. It is often called lex talionis (“law that exacts the same amount”). Punishment should not exceed the injury done.

Here, Jesus forbids even this proportionate retaliation. An “eye for an eye” or a “tooth for a tooth” does not end in justice but in the cycle of violence that will eventually render the contending parties blind or toothless. When Jesus teaches instead to “offer no resistance to one who is evil” (v 39), he means that we do not seek revenge of any kind against one who has done us wrong. Rather, evil should be overcome by goodness.

Jesus invites us to resist and overcome injustice and violence by the power of love and forgiveness. When harm is done, damage is brought not only to the victim but also to the perpetrator because one becomes less than a human person. This cycle of violence should be broken through love and compassion.

With St. Francis pray: “Lord,
make me an instrument
of your peace… Where there
is injury, let me bring pardon.”

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