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Glancing Thoughts
Third Sunday of Lent
Year B
March 7, 2021
Eleonore Stump
The Instruction Manual

In the First Reading, God gives Moses and the Israelites the ten commandments. These are God’s basic instruction manual for life. In Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7), that basic instruction manual is supplied with more details. The ten commandments forbid murder. The Sermon on the Mount commands you actually to love your enemy, turn the other cheek to him, and so on. 

There is a medieval saying: every act of Christ is a teaching for us

The rules of God’s instruction manual for us are helpful; but, as we all have learned, it is hard to know in what circumstances they apply. Suppose you take the commandment about turning the other cheek to apply to someone who is beating his wife. If you apply it to mean that you should not try to stop him, you will simply be cooperating with his evil. 

The trick is to see that the commandment about turning the other cheek has to be applied in the context of the broader rule: love your enemy. If you enable your enemy to become more evil, how have you loved him?

Elsewhere in the Gospel (John 2:15), Christ uses a whip to chase the moneychangers out of the Temple. In doing this he helps us understand how to apply the rules. In cases where turning the other cheek would make your enemy worse instead of better, loving your enemy requires helping him to stop his evil in some other way. And that is why the same Christ who gave the Sermon on the Mount drives out the moneychangers. If he had turned the other cheek to them, he would have been an enabler of their evil. Instead, it is good for them, as well as for others, that they stop the evil they were doing. And so Christ uses force to get them to stop.

Here is the thing to notice, then. God’s instruction manual for life is not limited just to the sets of rules in the ten commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. There is a medieval saying: every act of Christ is a teaching for us (Omnis Christi actio nostra est instructio).* Christ’s life and actions, as they are set out in the Gospels, are our best help for seeing how to live our lives well. Our best instruction manual is Christ himself.

Eleonore Stump
 * As for instance, see one of Thomas Aquinas’s use of it: Summa Theologiae > Third Part > Question 40.

Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University

Art by Martin Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go