There is something just before this section in Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount which the Church for some reason left out, (perhaps for the sake of brevity). Jesus said, ‘You have heard it said, “An eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth” (which is actually quoting Ex 21:24 and Lev 24:19) but I say to you…’ That’s called the law of retaliation. We might think that sounds harsh—“an eye for an eye”—, but even that is actually an advance over other primitive societies, an advance in the evolution of the moral conscience. Before that there was reprisal and retribution, revenge and vengeance, even sanctioned in the Bible! “An eye for an eye” is at least proportional; it limits reprisal to reciprocity, hence, an eye for an eye and no more! Vengeance is mine, says the Lord (Deut 32:35). But in later Jewish thought there is also what is called the Silver Rule, as opposed to the Golden Rule: “Do not do unto others what you would not have them to unto you,” intimated in the Book of Tobit and found in the teachings of Hillel. And then of course comes the Golden Rule (Mt 7:12), which asks for a little more, asks for the same thing in a positive light: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ which implies positive action, taking the initiative to create an atmosphere of good will. And then the next step is this teaching: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ This is nothing less than moral heroism; this is the height of sanctity; this is perfection.
There was an old priest, Fr. Cudahy, and Fr. Cudahy had a very hard time writing homilies. No matter how hard he tried they never seemed to come out right. Even after thirty years as a priest, he still had such a hard time writing homilies. Well, he was friends with an old usher named Sam, and he and old Sam used to have a beer together every Friday night. And this one particular Friday night Fr. Cudahay was feeling particularly discouraged and he says to Sam, “Wow, Sam, if you only knew how tiring it is to work on homilies!” And old Sam says, “Well, you know, Father, I sympathize with you. If you only knew how tiring it is to listen to them!”
The fifth week in Ordinary Time we heard the story of creation and the fall from the Book of Genesis, the foundational myth of the Judeo-Christian tradition, especially what was the well-known unfortunate climax of the story, Eve and then Adam eating the apple from the tree of in the middle of the Garden of Eden. Finally we hear at end of the week the consequences of that act.
I imagine waves when I read the account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, not just waves of the river but the waves of birth and death, birth and death, birth and death. The first movement is this: What I actually find most remarkable about this story of Jesus’ baptism is what comes right after it. Right after this, Jesus is going to be led by the Holy Spirit into the desert, and then after that he’ll begin his earthly ministry.
The French liturgist Jean Corbon gave me a new understanding about the ascension of Jesus when he refers to the “eternal ascension” of Jesus. In other words, it is not a static one-time-only event but part of an ongoing process. Where the Head has gone the rest of the Body is going. The same thing could apply to the feast of the Epiphany. The ancient tradition used to refer to at least three events as the epiphany, the visit of the Magi, the wedding feast at Cana, and the Baptism of Jesus. But really Jesus’ whole life as well as his passion, death and resurrection were an epiphany. And there is an ongoing epiphany too, in the world, in the Church, in us.