Victim or Victorious?
The words of Jesus in today's Gospel could either be a description of a victim or a description of a ministry. Which is it for you?
Bullies and other abusers tell us, in effect: "You have to turn your cheek and let me hit you again! You're not supposed to retaliate or defend yourself." A victim is someone who says, in effect: "It's wrong for me to resist being treated this way. It's wrong for me to get away from it. It's wrong for me to call in the authorities against this person. I must offer up my sufferings to Jesus, that's all."
No matter how others treat us, Jesus does not want us to be victimized by it. There's a difference between what Jesus did and submitting to victimhood. Jesus became a victim for our sins and was victorious because of it.
When we allow others to victimize us, we are self-serving: We are protecting ourselves from the unpleasant work of making our abusers accountable for their actions. Standing up against injustices and enforcing boundaries is other-serving: We serve abusers by giving them the opportunity to change, and we serve other potential victims by protecting them from future harm.
If we're in unhealthy relationships but don't seek healing, or if we're clinging to what's familiar so that we won't have to do the hard work of learning new patterns, or if we're using our troubles to get attention and sympathy as a martyr, we are unholy victims. We are not serving as instruments of God's healing love.
Jesus wants us to take injustices and abuses and turn them into ministry. In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, and 7), he teaches us how to live a life of ministry, not victimhood. Our first reading is an example of how our Gospel reading is supposed to be applied. When we suffer for the sake of "enriching many," we are "sorrowful yet always rejoicing."
Amazing things happen when we live this way. Take, for example, the time a neighbor verbally attacked me repeatedly, because he mistakenly believed that my dog was spilling his garbage onto the street. He threatened to have an Animal Control Officer take my pet away. How did Jesus want me to give him my other cheek without being a victim?
First, without anger, I tried to explain that raccoons were the culprit, but when he refused to believe me, I looked for a way to go the extra mile. I cleaned up his ikky garbage mess and put it into one of my trash cans that had a good, snap-on lid, with a bow on top and a message to explain that it was a gift. After that, peace reigned between us, even when he left his trash unlidded and it was again ravaged by midnight invaders.
By having an attitude of forgiveness while maintaining healthy and reasonable boundaries against abuse, then and only then are we free to turn it into a ministry. Only then can Christ reach out to others through us and convert the pain of our sufferings into a gift with redemptive value.
And oh! How wonderful it is to contribute to someone's redemption!