Have we allowed an ‘eye for an eye’ mentality to turn us into a society of bullies?
Bullies, we’ve become a nation, a world, of bullies.
I’m sure you must remember – it was all over the local news in early February.
A middle-school boy in South Elgin, Ill was beaten so severely by a fellow-student that he ended up in coma in the hospital. We’re talking 12-year-olds here. But can you blame them? Where are they learning that kind of behavior?
All we need to do is look around us if we seek the answer.
While I can’t speak for other countries, let’s face it, we have allowed ourselves to become a nation of bullies. The news is full of bullies; our work places, shopping malls and neighborhoods are full of bullies. Heck, bullying even raises its ugly head in what should be the sanctuary of our own homes. I would dare say there are even religious bullies today.
We always seem to be on high alert for that slight, the insult, something – anything- to get angry about. We look for the hurts, which in actuality, are products of our own minds.
How many of us, when hearing this week’s Gospel (Mt 5:38-48), cheer for that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth line? How are inwardly hissing and jeering at the notion of turning the other cheek? We’re no wimps and cowards, we think.
Dear Jesus, this is a hard one to get our minds and hearts around, let alone practice!
Then, to complicate things, Jesus tells us to “…be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” What fool would ever imagine he/she could as perfect as our God?
This never made sense to me until I looked at it from another perspective – from that of the bully. Of course it would be hard to turn that other cheek when you are being pummeling to within an inch of yours life. However, maybe what Jesus commands doesn’t begin with the one being attacked. Maybe it begins with the bullies of the world – those of us who are so quick to react when we imagine we are being wronged, even if that wasn’t the intent.
Allegedly, that middle school boy who took the brunt of the attack had accidently (or not) bumped into the bully at school, which then incited the confrontation. Bad blood or not, what if the bully had chosen to turn the other cheek that day? What if he had been able to just shrug it off and walk away?
What would happen if we, as the adults of this world, decided to model the behavior we hope to see in our children? They learn from us, you know!
That eye for an eye line has often been subject to misinterpretation. In the ancient world, that law called for a proportionate response rather than an escalation in violence. Sound familiar? Don’t nations, including some in the U.S., too often speak in terms of total obliteration rather that a proportional response? Diplomacy surely seems to be becoming a lost art.
Puzzling, isn’t it? All the while we hear the words of Jesus, we’re screaming that we’re not going to let anyone get the upper hand or allow them to hurt us first. We’re developing a paranoid mentality that continually whispers that we need to strike out now before the other guy strikes first. I can’t help but think that with that mindset, everyone becomes our enemy as we swirl out of control in a sea of suspicion.
But later on in the Gospel, Matthew recalls our Lord’s words of counsel, most likely with his own passion and death in mind: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” If we’ve learned to extend God’s love to all, it becomes harder to strike out against our enemies. We begin to see them in a different light when we realized that God “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
While we don’t excuse evil and bad behavior, learning to turn that other cheek more often than we don’t, learning to love our enemies we lift them up to God in prayer, is what Jesus possibly meant by saying we need to strive to be perfect in our love just as God in perfect in God’s love.