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Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
In Luke’s gospel (6: 27-38) today Jesus presents an astonishing challenge. This part of the sermon on the plain is the continuation of a vigorous training session for those who would follow Jesus, preach his message, and be rejected because of it. Jesus advised them: “to the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one; love your enemies, do good to them, and expect nothing back.
This surely is a counterpoint to the first reading this morning (1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23). We read that it was permissible and actually encoded in the Law to exact an "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." The laws of retaliation in the Old Testament established the right to seek damages similar to the crime perpetrated even taking "a life for a life." Jesus reversed that old law.
One of the hardest things to do in life is to turn the other cheek when someone bullies or murders a person especially because that person is of a different ethnic group, gender, race, or caste. How do Jews forgive Hitler for executing their family members? How do parents forgive those who shot their children in school? How do persons of color forgive those who enslaved and lynched their ancestors?
As we know this is Black History month.  It was inaugurated in the 1920’s to remember the emancipation of slaves and to celebrate the contributions black people make to this country. Today there is a lot of discussion about how much of the history of black people should be taught.
American history has many chapters that reveal our country’s good and bad sides but we cannot overlook the whole of American history. The bible has many episodes that graphically record acts of good and evil but that does not stop us from reading the whole story.
Before the pandemic took hold of our country I had the opportunity to visit civil rights museums and memorials in Alabama. As I stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, I grieved as the images of Bloody Sunday flashed in my mind. The Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 60s awakened our nation to the reality of racial injustice and hatred that continue to affect African-Americans and all of us in one way or another.
I thought not only of the marchers who were severely trampled and beaten on that bridge but also those people who attacked them. Who were they and what were they thinking? What drove them to do such harm to peaceful protestors, to other human beings also created by God? Would they be forgiven? The gospel today says: Forgive and you will be forgiven.
What was Jesus proposing? New Testament scholar Sarah Henrich explained: “All that power that flows from Jesus … will bring about a very different world, God’s world. The power will level the playing field no matter what rules we have established to create and protect our positions. The thriving of all creatures in God’s realm requires a different ethos from those customarily in place.”
The late John Lewis, civil rights activist and respected member of Congress, was the epitome of this gospel text. Although almost bludgeoned to death at different times he, like other non-violent civil rights activists, whether at a lunch counter or on that bridge in Selma, never once fought back. Lewis urged: “Speak up, speak out, get in the way. Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.”
Jesus got in good trouble, plenty of good trouble, to save people, to pave a path to freedom from all injustice. He cared for those who were sick and oppressed but he also welcomed sinners in the spirit of today’s Psalm 103:1-4, 10-13: “God pardons all your iniquities. God heals all your ills.”
Privatized prisons are filled because we still have an “eye for an eye” mentality about how to deal with criminals. Slavery exists around the world in various forms — child labor, sex trafficking, unfair wages, and the rise of authoritarian dictators. Social inequities, anger, and hate tear us apart.
We can counter these overwhelming atrocities by stressing human goodness. John Lewis advised: "I alone cannot change the world, [he said] but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.”
God needs us to make ripples, to make good trouble during this chapter of cosmic history. The biblical playbook tells us to be resilient, to work harder together, to act justly, walk humbly, and speak kindly.
In January 1972, Pope Paul VI called justice “a collective and universal phenomenon.” He then quoted the prophet Isaiah (32:17): “If you want peace, work for justice.” We might add today, and … if we want justice, work for reconciliation.
1. Carter Woodson is credited with starting the tradition and selecting February to remember two men who helped shape Black History — Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas.