In the parish, liability is a huge deal. I’m aware of the fact that the Catholic Church is an easy (and main) target. People will chase any institution (religious or not) that has a deep pocket. Good luck in St. James. We’re buried in debt. I was told, for as long as the incident happens within the premises, I, as the Parish Priest, am liable. It scared me to death. I said to myself, Welcome to America, the land of the free and lawsuit. If a skater is injured on the grounds, the parish can be sued. Even if the person opted not to take any step further, an insurance company can get back to me and send a lovely note along with the billing statement for medical expenses and possibly, drain our resources, rock bottom.
This is what Jesus brings into question in the first line of the Gospel, “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” (Mt. 5: 38) He’s talking about the law of retaliation which simply means, if someone inflicts you any sort of injury, if you can’t arrange it civilly, take that person to the court and demand to pay for the damage, fair enough under certain circumstances. Jesus isn’t convinced though and in turn, offers to take the road never travelled. He fearlessly challenged the status quo and nailed down the hallmark of Christian life, the very words that must distinguish Us from others, believing or not, “But I say to you, offer no resistance to evil, don’t cooperate with it, never resent or seek revenge, if someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other as well, give more than what is asked, go another mile, lend to anyone who begs, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”(Mt. 5:39-42) How’s that for a Sunday treat? And one last thing, “…be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48) Welcome to Christianity!
After Mass, a woman commented that it was lovely yet, too much, even impossible and was wondering whether he was serious or not. He was way out ahead of the curve, I replied. Are we supposed to have rights at all? As morbid as it sounds, I said, yes, we do (not obligated) yet a true Catholic waives it, if necessary, not in a passive sense though, but with all the intention of avoiding the perpetuation of evil.If the Gospel is lived in its entirety, Christianity is contagious. In an age where almost everything is centered on the self, constantly asserting rights, honor and privileges, as if it were sacrosanct, and as often as not, looking for amusement, than focusing on one’s duties and responsibilities, Jesus’ signature teaching can’t be taken anything less than a mere slogan or a suggestion. It’s the rule of life and the fuel that changes people’s hearts. Things like, don’t just pray for those who threaten you and give you heartaches, keep them closer and resolve to put an end to the cycle of harm and violence. In the face of extreme need, we can’t ignore anyone even down to the last penny. What about me? It shouldn’t be a surprise because our lives are meant to be of service to others, carrying out things not with bitterness but with smile, joy and gladness, always doing all the best we can. By the way, Jesus’ disturbing words, however challenging, are possible only through the grace of God. If our lives are in sync with him, I don’t think we’ll even have difficulty wrestling with the passage at all. Amen.