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7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 5:38-48
February 19, 2017

Our readings continue on the themes we have been hearing in recent weeks.  Paul continues to speak about what it means to be wise versus foolish and Jesus continues to speak about what God’s Law really means for us.  What Jesus speaks of today is not explicitly found in the Ten Commandments but it is found in the Old Testament.

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  This is found in both Leviticus 24:30 and Exodus 21:24.  Today people will cite it to justify the death penalty or other acts of retaliation while calling it justice.  Taken at face value, the verse would seem to justify this.

A couple of items here, first, if we want to quote the Bible we can’t look at any one line to suit our needs.  We need to look at the whole of the Bible.  In this case we just need to look at the next sentence by Jesus, “But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil” and He will go on to speak of loving our enemies.

Secondly, we need to think about why Leviticus and Exodus both include this verse of “an eye for an eye,…”  Here we need to think about why we have rules.  Genuinely rules are made to stop us from doing something worse.  In this case, this phrase is not meant to tell us we must retaliate this harshly.  People were actually doing worse.  For instance, when one was attacked by another, the retaliation might be to attack the whole village of the first attacker.

So, the rule, “an eye for an eye..” was meant to lessen the response.  At the time when God first offered this teaching through Moses, the Israelites were just starting out from Egypt and learning what it means to be God’s Children.

Jesus came over 1,200 years after Moses.  As a people, Israel had experienced much.  Jesus seeks in to help them make the next step in understanding what God’s teaching means for us.

Think of it this way.  For all of you who are raising or have raised children, do we have the same level of rules for a two-year old as a fifteen year old?  For the two-year old, rules center of safety and not hurting others.  Also, for the two-year old, we don’t expect them to have a deep understanding of the rule.  We tell them something and that is supposed to be enough.

When they get to fifteen, just because mom or dad say so is no longer enough.  As they grow, we need to teach them why the rule is there.  Also, at fifteen, there are more rules to follow.  There are more not to be mean but because we can handle it.

With this in mind, Jesus takes the rule “an eye for an eye…” and tells to love everyone.  This is not really totally new.  In our first reading, we heard, “You shall not bear hatred,…take no revenge and cherish no grudge.”  Jesus doesn’t change what God has been expected all along.  He just helps us understand it better.

With that sometimes it is hard to hear that we are supposed to love everyone.  People do bad things to us and we want to see them punished but if we take revenge how are we any better?  How do we expect anything to get any better if we aren’t willing to be the first to be good, to be holy?

With this in mind, we hear the last verse of today’s gospel, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  To us, “perfect” means to do everything in the exact right way.  As humans, we are incapable of reaching perfection in this way.  This is true today and it was true when the Lord told Moses to say to the people, “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.”

To be holy (perfect), is to strive to follow all of God’s teaching to the best of our ability.  God knows we are not “perfect.”  He knows we are not always good.  That is why “he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”  God wants to help us because He loves us.

God knows and we know that we are not perfect.  We know we need God’s help.  That’s why our opening prayer said “Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, always pondering spiritual things, we may carry out in both word and deed that which is pleasing to you.”

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