‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
If today’s reading were put into practice, all war would cease immediately; and not only war but every kind of conflict, even minor domestic squabbles. It is highly improbable, to say the least, that that will ever happen.
François Mauriac, the great French all-round man of letters, wrote that society always remains criminal – even while many saints live within it. “[Society] cannot be excused because in every age there has been a Vincent de Paul or a Francis of Assisi to remind them of it – not so much by their words as by their lives of sacrifice. But the course of history has not been influenced by the saints. They have acted upon hearts and souls; but history has remained criminal.”
It can hardly be right to make such a clear distinction (amounting in this case to a separation) between the individual and society: individuals are part of society. But still there is something in what Mauriac said. Many people absorb every influence around them without question, but others are shaped by their conscious rejection of those same influences. The same conditions produce couch potatoes and prophets.
Society will never be improved by everyone telling everyone else to improve. A wise friend said to me once, “Let’s not waste our energy criticising what is wrong; let’s just do our own work to the best of our ability. If it’s any good it will displace what is bad.” This must be true not only of work but of everything.
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