When someone hurts us, we want revenge. The Law of Israel recognised this truth about human nature. When the people were taught the rule ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth,’ it was meant to put a limit on vengeance. The Law allowed the wronged party to exact revenge that was no more than they had suffered themselves – otherwise, there might be no end to the violence that followed. It was a brutal rule for a brutal time.
Jesus tells his disciples that, instead of meeting injustice with brutality, they should resist without violence. Turn the other cheek, so that the one who slaps you once can’t do it a second time. If a Roman soldier makes you carry his pack for a mile, surprise him by carrying it for two. Jesus is teaching the disciples not to give in to injustice, but to find a different response.
Jesus seems to be setting an impossible standard for us. Does he really expect us to be perfect, like God our Father? But we should remember the words of Pope Francis, that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.’ In the Church, we are called to travel together towards perfection, helped by God’s grace and supporting each other.