1 Kings 21:1-16
Matthew 5:38-42


Today’s first reading tells the story of the evil manipulation and plotting of Jezebel who arranges false accusations against Naboth to have him judicially murdered so that her spouse King Ahab can repossess Naboth’s vineyard. If I was a relative Naboth I might be tempted to seek ‘an eye for an eye’. Our Gospel reminds us that Jesus, as always, rejects this possibility. Offer no resistance to one who is evil, but he clearly does! Jesus’ response to violence is active, but non-violent, resistance. I refer to two verses.

When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to them as well.

Assuming the striker is right-handed, then the slap to the right cheek be a back-hander – a contemptuous slap, reflecting an attitude of superiority, perhaps a master over a slave. In effect Jesus suggests that one should stand straight and call out the violence without words. To strike the other cheek challenges the attacker to a more deliberate and violent act. It exposes the aggression and peacefully confronts it. It preserves the dignity of the oppressed and might instruct the aggressor.

Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.

This verse reflects the custom of Roman soldiers of conscripting the locals to carry their packs. Roman law limited to the distance to one mile. To go the second mile might unsettle the soldier’s sense superiority and power, as he must decide what to do as he risks reprimands for going too far.

Our Catholic social tradition and teaching, based on the Scriptures, never recommends passivity in the face of injustice. However, it unambiguously rules out violence and expects respect always for the human dignity of all, including the wrongdoer.

John McGrath is a parishioner of St Brigid’s Marrickville.