A matter of perfection

Epiphany 7

Matthew 5:32-48

Marian Free

 In the name of Jesus our Saviour who calls us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Amen.

The use of non-violent resistance is usually attributed to Gandhi, who as a young English-trained lawyer, was thrown off a train in South Africa because he refused to move to the third-class carriage when he had tickets for a first class seat. This experience led Gandhi to develop “satyagraha” – a deliberate and determined nonviolent resistance to injustice. Such resistance would mean not complying with an unjust law and not reacting to the consequences of non-compliance whether it be violence, confiscation of property, angry or an attempt to discredit the opposition. The goal, it was hoped would be not winners and losers but that all parties would come to see the injustice of a particular law and that those with the power to do so, would abolish it.

In South Africa, Gandhi organised opposition to the Asiatic Registration Law. Seven years of protests and strikes finally saw the law repealed. Returning to India, Gandhi observed the injustices perpetrated by the British against the Indian people and set about trying to change the situation without resorting to violence. As we often see, it can be very difficult to ensure that protests remain non-violent and in a country as vast and as populated as India it was, at the start, difficult to prevent rioting among the people. The famous Salt March is an example of a successful non-violent protest.

Salt was a seasoning that even the poorest of Indians used. However, the British had made it illegal for anyone other than themselves to make and sell salt. In order to expose this injustice and to subvert a law that caused so much heartache Gandhi set out with 78 people to walk 200 miles to the beach. Along the way he was joined by two to three thousand more. When the group reached the beach they spent the night in prayer. In the morning Gandhi picked up a grain of salt. An act considered to be illegal. His action began a tidal wave. All over India people began to collect, make and sell salt. The British reacted by arresting those taking part.

When Gandhi announced a march on the Dharasana Saltworks he was arrested and imprisoned, but the march continued all the same. When the marchers reached the saltworks, they approached the waiting policemen 25 at a time. Watched by media from all around the world, the marchers, who did not even raise their arms to protect themselves, were beaten to the ground with clubs. When they could no longer stand, the next 25 came forward and so on, until all 2500 protestors had been beaten to the ground. Not one had shown any resistance and not one had broken the law. The news of the British brutality towards non-resisting protestors quickly spread, forcing the Vice-Roy to release Gandhi and to begin discussions with him. It took much longer for India to be granted Independence, but Gandhi had demonstrated that force was not necessary to bring about change.  (details from history1900s.about.com)

Two thousand years before another man had demonstrated peaceful resistance. In the face of charges that were false and unjust and with the prospect of a particularly nasty fate ahead, Jesus chose to remain silent. He offered no defense, he did not protest his innocence, he did not call on his disciples to fight and nor did he call on heaven to intervene.

Today’s gospel contains the second set of three anti-theses (the first of which we encountered last week). Again, Jesus is taking teaching with which his hearers would have been familiar and extending it to its logical conclusion. If love of neighbour is important, love of enemy fulfills or completes the commandment to love. Taken to its extreme love excludes no one. Just as the sun and rain do not discriminate between the good and the bad, so too authentic love does not choose who to include or exclude within its scope. After all, it is easy to love those who love us back – even the worst of sinners do that.

Inclusive “love” is expressed in a number of radical ways: by being authentic, by not returning violence with violence, by showing generosity rather than giving the bare minimum. It is this love, the going above and beyond the minimal requirements of the law that will make Jesus’ disciples more righteous than the Pharisees (5:20). Jesus’ followers will demonstrate their righteousness by fulfilling the intention rather than just the letter of the law.

Love of the kind described here is only possible if we have reached a stage in our own lives in which we no longer need the recognition and affirmation of others. It is only possible to love so carelessly and indiscriminately if our sense of self is complete and secure. We can only find the strength to be utterly selfless, if we have a true sense of who we are.

Jesus was able to speak with such authority because he was absolutely clear about who he was and what he was called to do. In our faith journey we are called to the same depth of relationship with him and with God, that we too are able to step beyond our fears and doubts, our anxieties to become perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (5:48).



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