Many times people wonder how far they have to take this weekend's Gospel about "turning the other cheek." Fr. Cantalamessa gives a great reflection on this in his weekly scripture reflection (which comes to us in English thanks to Zenit News Service):
This Sunday's Gospel contains a type of moral code that should characterize the life of a disciple of Christ. The whole of it is summarized in the so-called golden rule of moral action: "Do to others as you would like them to do to you."
This is a rule that, if put into practice, would be enough to change the face of the families and the society in which we live. The Old Testament knew it in a negative form: "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you" (Tobias 4:15); Jesus proposes it in a positive form: "Do to others as you would like them to do to you," which is much more demanding.
But the Gospel passage also raises some questions. "To him who strikes you on the cheek, give him the other cheek; to him who takes away your cloak, give him your shirt as well. Give to whoever asks. Of him who takes your goods, do not ask for them back."
Does Jesus therefore command his disciples to not oppose evil, to let the violent do as they will? How can this be reconciled with the obligation to combat despotism and crime, to energetically denounce them, even when to do so is dangerous? Or how can it be reconciled with the idea of "zero tolerance" in the face of the increase in petty crime?
Not only does the Gospel not condemn this demand for law and order, it in fact reinforces it. There are situations in which charity does not oblige us to turn the other cheek, but to go directly to the police and report the misdeed.
The golden rule that is valid in all cases, we have heard, is to do to others as we would have them do to us. If you are, for example, the victim of theft, of a mugging, of blackmail, if someone rear-ends your car and demolishes it, you would certainly be happy if someone who witnessed the incident were ready to testify on your behalf.
The Gospel tells you that this is what you must do. You cannot let yourself off the hook with easy excuses: "I didn't see anything, I don't know anything." Fear and refusal to be a "narc" or "rat" is what allows crime to prosper.
But let us look at some other words from Sunday's Gospel which are in a sense even more dangerous: "Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned." So, should we leave the way open for wrongdoing with impunity? And what are we to think of magistrates who are full-time, professional judges? Are they condemned by the Gospel from the very beginning?
The Gospel is not as naive and unrealistic as it might at first seem. It does not so much charge us to remove judgment from our lives as it does to remove the poison from our judgment! That is, that part of our judgment which is resentment, rejection and revenge, which often is mixed in with the objective evaluation of the deed. Jesus' command to "not judge and you will not be judged" is immediately followed, as we have seen, by the command: "Do not condemn and you will not be condemned" (Luke 6:37).
The second phrase explains the meaning of the first one.
The word of God prohibits ruthless judgments, judgments that are merciless. It criticizes those who condemn the sinner together with the sin.
Today civil society rightly, and almost universally, rejects the death penalty. In capital punishment, the aspect of revenge on the part of society and the annihilation of the guilty party prevails over the notions of self-defense and of discouraging crime, both of which could be just as efficaciously served with other sorts of punishment.
Among other things, sometimes it is the case that the person who is executed is completely different from the one who committed the crime. This is due to the fact that sometimes the one convicted of the crime has repented and radically changed.