Monday, February 21, 2011

Gospel: Love your enemies

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time: A cycle

In today’s first reading from the book of Leviticus the Lord urges Moses to tell the Israelites to by holy. Just what does “holy” mean. It certainly does not mean taking some kind of pious attitude. The Lord is not asking the Israelites to love Himself, but to love their neighbor.

You shall not bear hatred for your brother and sister in your heart,…
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

In today’s gospel our Lord seems to have Leviticus in mind as He follows up on his discussion of the beatitudes that we heard just two weeks ago. The Mosaic law of just retaliation stood for an advance in civilization and was more humane than other contemporary law-codes. The injury inflicted on a wrongdoer had to be proportional to his crime. “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

Still, the Pharisees interpreted the command to love one’s neighbor as applying only to Jews—the pagans need not be loved. Jesus removes all limits on charity. After all, what good does it do?

For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
What is unusual about that>

In Christian theology there is no difference between the words “good,” “holy,” and “perfect.” There is also no difference between “bad,” “evil,” and “imperfect.” We don’t want to think of ourselves as bad or evil, but most of us would readily admit that we are imperfect.

In today’s gospel Jesus tells his followers to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” His words today are a lesson in how to achieve perfection or holiness. He raised the ante. Where Leviticus said love your neighbor, Jesus expands the definition of what is meant by neighbor. He says “love your enemies.”

When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
Turn the other one as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
Hand over your cloak as well,

Sometimes the words of Jesus seem so impractical. But if we reflect on our own experience, maybe we will begin to understand. As children if we cheated on an exam or found a way to avoid doing our work, what did we learn? Cheating did not hurt our classmates or our teacher, it hurt us. It also hurt all those who trusted in us.

In our families do vindictive or vengeful words do any good? How do they make us perfect? These words and actions hurt us even more than the people they are directed at. I know people whose close friendships were broken over a seemingly trivial word or deed. What good did it do them to lose a friend forever?

We know that the world of sports, business, and politics is extremely competitive, but what good will it do us to hate our opponents? When we do so, se become less, not more perfect.

In today’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he tell us that if we only know what we are, we would look at things differently.

Do you not know that you are the temple of god,
And that the spirit of god dwells in you?

He says that there is a higher wisdom, a truer practicality than the world knows. Even our wisest leaders today seem to lack this wisdom. We see them being unfaithful to their loved ones. We see them cheating their friends as well as their enemies. And finally, we see them being led off to jail in handcuffs after being held up to shame and ridicule in the media and the courts.

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God…
The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
That they are in vain.

Fortunately, most of us will not be considered among the wise of the world. In our simple lives we can fly below the radar. Yet we all have to travel the road to perfection in our own way. In these weeks before Lent, our scripture readings are providing us with a road map.

Reading 1 Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18
Reading II. 1 Corinthians 3: 16-23
Gospel. Matthew 5:38-48 (love your enemies).

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