Summary: A “Manual” for Escaping Our Vicious Cycles through non-violence is what the Sermon on the Mount has been called; to transform the adversary - and, in the process, to be transformed ourselves.
1). Mary Lou Kownacki relates the following tale:
It seems that in a certain village a snake had bitten so many people that few dared to go into the fields. Finally, it was taken to a wise person who tamed the snake and persuaded it to practice the discipline of nonviolence. When the villagers discovered the snake was harmless, they took to hurling stones at it and dragging it by its tail. Finally, the badly battered and disillusioned snake crawled to the wise one and complained bitterly.
"You've stopped frightening people," the wise one said, "and that's bad." The snake was incredulous. "But it was you who taught me to practice the discipline of nonviolence." "Oh," said the wise one, "I told you to stop hurting people, not stop hissing."
The word nonviolent is an adjective, it modifies how we resist being treated unjustly by others; not being a push-over but rather seeking justice in the most peaceful way possible is, as Desmond Tutu said, a justice-seeking people is more dangerous to a tyrant than an arms-bearing one.
“Love your enemies and do good to them” suggests we tend to become what we hate. It does not mean to accept terrorism or mass shootings or prevent the harshest legal consequences for those actions. Rather, Jesus is saying that if I hate the people who undertake these actions, I am not hating monsters or demons. I’m hating fellow humans. Hate the sin, love the sinner. Jesus loved us and died for us when we were his enemies. In our First Reading, Saul is trying to kill David. David has the opportunity to kill Saul and David’s general offered to do it, saying God is allowing this opportunity to kill Saul. David says no and gives a strongly theological argument for not harming Saul, but note that David creatively takes Saul’s spear, the weapon used on attempts on David’s life.
2. “Bless those who curse you”--
A wise man seemed quite unruffled by the insults hurled at him by a visitor. When his disciples later asked him what the secret of his serenity was, he said:
“Imagine what would happen if someone placed an offering before you and you did not pick it up. Or someone sent you a letter that you refused to open; you would be unaffected by its contents, would you not? Do this each time you are insulted, and you will not lose your serenity.”
Theologically, we could say that the evil that arises in curses is not a substance, but the twisting of blessings as they lose their orientation toward God. The foundational doctrine is that evil is only understandable in terms of the good. Existentially, good is primary and foundational. Evil is only parasitic, feeding off the good. So, when you are rooted in that moment in the good, in God, you understand that the bully or person who swears at you or curses you is using words that are mere vapors. You understand that the People who criticize your life are often the same ones who don’t know the price you paid to get where you are today. When you bless those who curse you, you show you are not a slave to that other person's behavior.
Lord, please bless this person… I know he/she is my enemy right now, but bless this person with your wisdom and let your face shine on them. You blessed those who cursed you, even as you suffered in agony on the cross. You asked the Father to forgive those who were torturing you to death.
3). If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well—
A slap on the right cheek by characteristically right-handed people would not be the blow of an aggressor but the backhanded slap of a superior—a characteristically Jewish form of insulting someone deemed to be inferior. Jesus' command declares, "Don't trade insults;" he is not saying "submit yourself to physical abuse.” Yet ironically, he prescribes an action that will shame the other person, which is what turning the other cheek will do. One is to say, "Do it again! Here is my other cheek!" St. Paul, in discussing this teaching and the one following about being kind to one's enemies, understands the shaming intent perfectly. He cites Proverbs 25:21-22 and says that such an action "will heap burning coals upon [the adversary's] head" (Rom 12:20). The enemy will be nonplussed, and the conflict will likely not escalate. Jesus is telling his followers to find creative, active, and nonviolent ways to assert their humanity and God’s love in the world.
Love isn’t how you feel. It’s what you do. St. Therese of Lisieux: Deep peace inundates the soul when it soars above mere natural sentiments.