Sunday, June 14, 2009

Through Much Endurance

June 15, 2009

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful; as unrecognized and yet acknowledged; as dying and behold we live; as chastised and yet not put to death; as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing and yet possessing all things. 2 Corinthians 6:8b-10

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” Matthew 5:38-39


Dear God, how in the sinful world can we offer no resistance? Your Son, in his obedience and humanity, stood at trial and offered no resistance when facing execution. Then, when sentenced, no matter how unfairly, he quietly carried his cross up Calvary. Yet we want to act…we want to help defeat evil. Help us to do it using your ways not ours. Amen.


The cultural contradictions of Christianity really emerge in today’s readings.

We have all seen the famous phrase attributed to Gandhi that “an eye for an eye” justice makes the whole world blind. Long before the leader of Indian independence uttered that pronouncement, Jesus was trying to take the spirituality of his followers beyond the retribution ideas expressed in the Hebrew Bible.

Jesus’ audience was intimately familiar with the passage from Leviticus 24:19-20. Anyone who inflicts an injury on his neighbor shall receive the same in return. Limb for limb, eye for eye, tooth for tooth! The same injury that a man gives another shall be inflicted on him in return. Jesus was trying to restore the covenant of love and challenge us. One way he did this was to change the rules with which the people were comfortable. In his contemporary time, Jesus tossed aside the rules of Leviticus. Would he do the same to us? If Jesus were alive today, based on Matthew 5, would he reject the concept of proportionality in the “just war” theory. Among the Principles of the Just War is this one: The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.

However, Jesus said turn the other cheek. No violence was acceptable, even if retaliating for harm done. In doing so, once again Jesus was turning the tables on the belief of the community. You can call Jesus many things, but do not call him conventional.


In isolation, Matthew 5 (and other comments by Jesus) could support a debate position saying that Constantine and Augustine were wrong to advance the “just war principles.” However, the Church exists in the modern world – a world in which we confront evil on the micro- and macro-levels daily. It also is a world in which Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love our enemy.

In this world, the challenges to Christianity abound. For one dose of reality, read Nicholas Kristoff’s essay in this week’s NY Review of Books on the violence in the Sudan (“What to do about Darfur?). Point your browser to

If we are going to live up to our Christ-centered responsibilities to our sisters and brothers, what do we do about evil in the world short of sending in troops everywhere there is oppression? Kristoff paints a bleak (chilling?) picture of what is happening in Darfur right now. He writes:

The slaughter in Darfur has now lasted more than six years, longer than World War II, yet the "Save Darfur" movement has stalled—even as the plight of many Darfuris may be worsening. Many advocates for Darfur, myself included, had urged the International Criminal Court to prosecute the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir. We got what we hoped for—on March 4, the court issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the immediate result was that Bashir expelled thirteen foreign aid organizations and closed three domestic ones. Millions of Darfuris have been left largely without assistance, and some are already dying.

Looming in the background is the risk that war will reignite between north and south Sudan, and if that happens Darfur will be remembered simply as a mild prologue to an even bloodier war. The north and south are each accumulating weapons and preparing for a resumption of the civil war, which, between 1983 and 2005, killed two million people. South Sudan is scheduled to hold a referendum in 2011 to determine whether it will remain in Sudan or secede, and everybody knows that the southern Sudanese will vote overwhelmingly for separation if the present regime remains in power in Khartoum. But two thirds of Sudan's oil is in the south, and it is almost inconceivable that the north will accept the loss of this oil without a fight. If you believe that Sudan is so wretched that it can't get worse, just wait.

Yikes! The prescription Mr. Kristoff writes for this situation is heavy on military presence, although not direct U.S. intervention including:

Enforcement of a no fly zone with proportional strikes at military aircraft when Sudan uses its military for bombing raids on its own people,
Constructive peace talks with members of the Mandate Darfur coalition
Doing more with sanctions
Diplomatic pressure on China to suspend military sales
Encouraging the overthrown of the Bashir government
Arm sales to south Sudan leaders by our allies (even if we do not do it ourselves).

Do such military and diplomatic solutions square with Matthew 5? If not, then how can we prevent the continued slaughter of innocents? Do we dismiss it with a Cain-like attitude that we are not the keeper for our sisters and brothers?

One side of that argument may not be popular with Catholics on the right. The other may not be popular with Catholics on the left end of the political spectrum. However, a peace-filled solution in the Sudan like those that occurred in South Africa or Poland may not take place for years to come if the international community (including the United States) does not help it along. Is that fair to those who are suffering?

Where are you willing to go?

What are you willing to do?

What comfort zone are you willing to leave behind?