Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome, Teacher of the Faith, 461
Text for the Reflection
‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We are now reaching the climax of the Sermon on the Mount and verse 38 is known as lex talionis which is the law of retaliation or the law of revenge. While it might seem barbaric, it represented an early attempt to ensure justice and limit revenge. The Old Testament incorporates lex talionis. Deuteronomy 19:21 says, “Your eyes shall not pity: life for life, eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot”. Over time, however, the practice was modified in Israel to allow the injured party to obtain a monetary award in lieu of inflicting injury on the guilty person, thus further civilizing the process. Under lex talionis, a person who has been wronged can seek revenge against the person who committed the wrong, regardless of the relative status of the two people. However, when one reads these ethical systems from the very beginning, one would realize that the earlier demands prohibit injuring someone hence there will be no need for revenge. The most important aspect here is to read the spirit behind the law and not the letter of the law. We live in a world whereby people are seeking opportunities to revenge the wronging that have been committed against them in the past. This has failed to break the chain of or cycle of violence that occurs from one generation to another. Let us pray to God to give us the spirit and will to break the chain of retaliation and violence.
Let Us Pray
Grant, we beseech you, merciful Lord, to your faithful
people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from
all their sins and serve you with a quiet mind;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and
reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.