Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – 23 February 2014 – When To Turn the Other Cheek


7 Ordinary A – February 23, 2014 – When To Turn the Other Cheek

Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18; Psalm 103:1-4,8,10,12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

Not far from here in Rifton, NY, there is a community of women, men and children called the Woodcrest Bruderhof. [1] Their history dates to 1920 in Germany when the founders were looking for answers to the devastation of a post-war society. Frustrated by the silence of the established church in the face of widespread chaos in Europe, they decided to act. Because they were pacifists they were banished from Germany. They moved to England, Paraguay and then the United States. The community in Rifton was established in 1954.

The members of the Bruderhof do not serve in the military. They are non-violent, peaceful people who own nothing and live in common. The Sermon on the Mount is the basis of their philosophy — love your neighbors as yourselves.

Today’s gospel is the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount that we heard last week. In this week’s section we are asked not only to love our enemies but to turn the other cheek whenever we are bullied, offended or harmed by someone. Turning the other cheek is very hard to do. There may be times when we do have to fight back.

Barbara DiTommaso, while Director of our Diocesan Commission on Peace and Justice, shared a story about a man, a villager, who took up arms to protect his family from the Nicaraguan counter revolutionaries (Contras). Barbara wrote “loving enemies does not absolve us from loving those who are not our enemies.” She explained that what she “opposed was not self defense but any government’s imperialism and repression of another people’s legitimate right to self-determination.” Consider what is happening in Egypt, Syria, Thailand, Ukraine and Venezuela. 

Here at home we cannot be indifferent about bullying in elementary school, date rape in college or economic inequity. Our awareness of issues here and beyond us can generate our action. At the same time it can help us discern what we need to live humbly, peacefully and justly. Soon you will hear more about our parish Lenten program “Freedom From Want” designed to help us deepen our relationships with God and one another.

Our first reading today, from the Book of Leviticus, [2] has two themes. The holiness of God’s creation exists side by side with imperfections and evil. Like our ancestors in faith we have been elected to sanctify the world, removing from it whatever deprives humans, other creatures and the environment itself of respect and care.

Leviticus also teaches us that the presence of God is realized in ritual action. Our worship serves as an avenue leading into the life of Christ where we are united in a holy spirit. It is not just a time to hear sermons, say prayers and sing music. What we do here in this church is a rehearsal for living out there. Our celebration of the eucharist cannot be divorced from the injustices around us. There is a moral foundation for what we do during worship. 

Scholar Keith Pecklers once warned against “liturgical isolationism.” Is the sign of peace, for example, merely exchanged by families and friends? Or does it symbolize our role as peacemakers in a world where evil is real? The gospel says it is easy to be friends with friends. We cannot worship God and love those we know and then ignore, deride and despise evil people and their actions without doing something to stop it.

The Woodcrest Bruderhof in Rifton NY is one example of a community of believers inspired by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The members of that collective abide by the radical nature of his message to love each other as well as our enemies. 

Here at St Vincent’s we may not live in common or share our goods like they do at the Bruderhof in Rifton. However, we have committed ourselves to becoming a hospitable church, one that practices a radical hospitality. We care not only for ourselves but also for others through random and not so random acts of kindness. 

It is so good for all of us to be here today. And if you are visiting or come to church only once in awhile, know there will always be a place for you at our table.


1. There is a Bruderhof Community in Albany, New York as well. I am, however, more familiar with the one in Rifton.

2. Leviticus was a Priests’ Manual. The role of the priests was to teach about the difference between what was holy and what was not.



Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

2 thoughts on “Homily – 23 February 2014 – When To Turn the Other Cheek

  1. Thank you for this!


  2. I’d like to share my little bit of experience with the Bruderhof (which I think means Brotherhood). There were and perhaps still are 3 communities in the Hudson Valley. They had a community on Madison Ave. in Albany across from Washington Park, but since moved to another Albany house because the previous place required so must remodeling for community living. One of their lovely customs is for a woman from the community to stay with the children in the evening until they fall asleep, which must engender a deep feeling of security for the little ones. They regard children as a blessing, and they have the healthiest looking children I’ve ever seen.

    After the evening meal, they sit in a circle (outside in warm weather) and sing religious songs from their hymnal.

    They used to shun those who left the community, but now they encourage their high school graduates to live outside the community so their life in the community will be a real choice.

    The thing I admire most about the Bruderhof is their commitment to not talk about anyone behind their back or to criticize one member to another. They go to the person him/herself and work out whatever the issue is just between themselves.

    At one time, they were anti-Catholic. However, when policeman Steven McDonald in NYC became a paraplegic after being shot by a teenage boy, they embraced him because he forgave the youth rather than seeking the death penalty for him (do a search for this – it’s very inspiring). Steven and Johann Christof Arnold, the leader of the community, went together to Northern Ireland on a peace mission that may have played a part in the Good Friday Peace Accords. Before they left, there was a Mass at the Bruderhof. What an example of a living religious tradition!

    Six of the older couples once visited me to explore what issues they and the Peace and Justice Commission could work on together.

    I’m sorry to say that they’re quite patriarchal. They believe that women go to God through their husbands, and that work roles are specific to each gender. Since this is accepted, from my limited observation, the women seem happy and certainly aren’t shy about speaking up.


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