Do No Harm (Seventh Ordinary)

Jesus went on, “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth’. Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all’. If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously”.  (Matthew 5: 38 – 42)

One of the more famous embodiments of the message behind today’s gospel reading is Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance. Working from the words of Jesus, Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. Not only did Gandhi pioneer the idea that mass social change could materialise through nonviolent means, be would fast if violent actions occurred against the British by his own people.

Today’s gospel promotes these two ideas: nonviolent resistance and loving our enemy. If these concepts seem counterintuitive, it is because they are. Biologically we are wired to react aggressively toward threats to protect against ourselves. Nonviolent resistance and loving our enemies are conscious actions that challenge the way life is lived by most people.

Jesus and Gandhi were not only enlightened minds, they were also strong leaders who manifested what they preached through their actions. As a practitioner of ahimsa, an Indian term meaning “to do no harm,” Gandhi swore to speak the truth and advocated that others do the same. Gandhi gave up any hint of materialism and lived his life in a self-sufficient community. Jesus, too, was famous for immersing himself in the lives of sinners, the poor, the suffering. It is not enough simply to preach. It is only through action that true change can come about.

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