I love the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Something interesting about the pirates in these movies is that even though they are thieves, they keep to a code. The pirates who have a sense of honor make for interesting characters because their honor and complex morals keep them from being completely depraved. Unfortunately, there is also a tendency in the films to see the rules of the code as more like “guidelines.”
In contrast, the rules for a new life laid out in today’s passage is straight and narrow: Be honest. Don’t dwell on your anger. Work hard and don’t steal. Use your words to encourage others and not to hurt. Be kind, tenderhearted,and forgiving to one another.
It sounds easy enough to follow, but unfortunately, we have a tendency to treat the lessons we learn from the Bible as guidelines. There are times when we’d rather nurse a grudge, cut corners in order to make a job easier, indulge in gossip, and only act kind towards our friends instead of giving kindness and forgiveness to those who actually need them. If we say that we are Christian, but act in this manner, we are no better than the Pharisees.
All of these rules in the passages from Ephesians and the Gospel of Matthew center around the virtue of justice. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor...Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regards to persona and to the common good.” (CCC 1807)
Are we being fair and just when we indulge in holding our anger, gossip about others, and treat some people better than others? The answer, of course, is “NO!” Instead of seeking vengeance, follow what the Gospel of Matthew has laid out: turn the other cheek and love your enemies.
How exactly does one love an enemy, you ask?
Turning the other cheek does not mean acting passively when faced with adversity. Back in Jesus’s time, striking someone on the right cheek was often done with the back of someone’s right hand, which was a way of the striker regarding the one he hit as his social inferior. By turning the other cheek, it forces the one who struck to recognize the one he hit as an equal because he has no choice but to hit with the palm of his right hand. Turning the other cheek, in other words, is another way of standing one’s ground and being assertive without acting aggressive or acquiescing to the other person’s violence.
In regards to our daily life, we can turn the other cheek by choosing to let go of the anger we have against someone, releasing the power we have over them. Instead of gossiping and using our words to undermine others, we can turn the other cheek by talking well about other people and using our words to encourage others to be better people. And the best way that we can be kind and turn the other cheek is to be nice to those who are mean to us, in spite of how we may feel about them. “Kill them with kindness” as they say.
Today, I hope that you will choose to turn the other cheek and remember to stick to the code!
Do you see God’s words as guidelines? Why do you think the commandments and suggestions from Scripture are so hard to follow?
Reflect on an instance when you turned the other cheek. What happened as a result of that?