There is a scene in the movie Blood Diamond in which the three lead characters are walking through the jungle when they are abruptly stopped by a small group of well armed and angry looking men. Tensions rapidly escalate as each side tries to determine if the other group is an enemy. Then, to the consternation of her two friends and the bafflement of the armed men, one of the lead characters, a photo journalist who is unarmed, steps between the two groups, smiles, and asks if she can take everyone’s picture. The scene offers some much needed comic relief, but it also gives us an example of how to uphold Jesus’ teaching that we hear in today’s Gospel passage. By stepping into the midst of this dangerous, tense scene and then pointing a camera instead of a gun, the photo journalist changes the narrative. No one is shot, everyone lowers their guns, and the two groups realize that they are not enemies.
When Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek or to walk the extra mile, he’s inviting us to change the narrative. If someone abruptly cuts us off on the interstate, for example, instead of honking the horn, making a rude gesture, or tailgating the person for several miles, we could simply back off and give that person some space. We might even construct a short narrative about that person. As my step-father would say, “Well, maybe there’s an emergency.” You might be thinking like I was, “There’s no emergency!” or to go back to Jesus’ examples, “You have no right to hit me, or to make me walk the extra mile!” These very human responses, however, don’t change the narrative. They maintain the tension, the anger, and the separation between two people or two groups.
When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he doesn’t mean that we should allow other people to take advantage of us or push us around. Instead, Jesus wants us to respond to an unkindness or even an injustice in a way that makes the other person stop, step back, and take a close look at his or her initial action. Sometimes our attempt succeeds and we move toward understanding and reconciliation. We know from experience, however, that sometimes the other person will remain unmoved. Jesus knows that it isn’t easy to try to change the narrative. He also knows that when we try, we will not always succeed. During his Passion and crucifixion, no one seemed to change at all as Jesus responded without violence, anger or even resentment. The crucifixion of Jesus is the boldest, the most compelling, the most formidable image we have of a person trying to change the narrative. The crucifixion is an image of powerlessness, of subjection, of holy surrender in the face of evil behavior. The image provokes us to pause, take a step back, and reconsider our behavior. We look at the image of the crucifixion and ask ourselves if we really want to put people on crosses. Do we really want to be the cause of someone’s pain or anguish or grief? Do we really want to further the tension, injustice, and violence in our world? Or do we instead, like our Lord, want to find whatever way we can to change the narrative?
Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Feb. 24 (usccb.org)
Click here for my questions and commentary: Study Guide for Feb. 24