In the ancient tribal life of the Jewish people, avenging a wrong could inflict a disproportionate injury to the offender; and a counter reprisal could lead to a clash or war in which some families or tribes could be wiped out. So, the Mosaic law introduced as a legal limit to retaliation, the penalty of the same injury. It says: “anyone who injures a neighbor shall receive the same in return, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As the injury inflicted, so will be the injury suffered.” (Lev. 24:1 9). Though seemingly brute or savage, this ancient law was very good to the extent it fixed the boundaries of vengeance, and thus prevented greater harm.
However, the purpose and merits of this law not withstanding, Jesus faulted it and invites us to a higher life that is not determined by events or actions of people around us. He says: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt.5:44) We must neither be provoked into retaliation nor allow the hostilities of others to prompt our actions. As a matter of fact, the virtues we have must not be corrupted by the vices around us.
As it is in the nature of light to give heat and never cold; and as God, true to His nature, does good to everyone, good and bad alike, so must we love and do good to everyone, even to our enemies. That is the perfection to which Christ invites us.
Hemal Manek told a story which I consider very ad rem to the message of Jesus today: Back in those days when Germany was divided, a huge wall separated East and West Berlin. One day, some people In East Berlin took a truck load of garbage and dumped it on the West Berlin side. However, the people of West Berlin responded differently. They took a truck load of canned good, bread, milk and other provisions, and neatly stacked them on the East Berlin side. On top of this stack, the placed a sign: each one gives what he has.
I believe this is exactly what Christ means to let us understand. Each one gives what he has, and no one gives what he does not have. We cannot develop callousness or borrow meanness for the purpose of revenge. If the wicked hurt us from the wickedness that fills their heart, we should love them from the abundance of love that fills our hearts. That is being true to our type, and that is the difference between the old law and the new law. The new law as amended by Christ is meant to engender a new mindset or attitude that naturally gives a new result – perfection! Our perfection comes from fidelity to the love and virtues within us, and our actions must always be fed by nothing save this love.
Indeed, love is the hallmark or seal of Christian life. Hence Christ said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn13:35) To allow our enemies predispose us to revenge, or take away this love that gives us essence, is to be determined by them. That actually is to be disrobed of our essence. Bishop G. Onah would rather say, “if our enemies succeed in making us hate them, then they have conquered us completely. For Christianity without love, including love of enemy is empty…”.