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 (8a)
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 5:38-48
February 23, 2020

Last week we heard Jesus say that He came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  He began to teach us how to fully live out the law, starting with the Commandments against killing, adultery, and taking oaths.

Today’s gospel picks up where we left off last week. 

Jesus speaks about the teaching, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  As He did in what we heard last week, Jesus expands on that, calling us to “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” 

Many take the verse, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” to justify “revenge”.  That is not the intent.  God was not telling the people they had to retaliate.  In fact, God is saying this to get them to lessen their response to violence.  For example, one person might murder one person.  Then a third party would respond by killing the original murderer and even more people.  An “eye for an eye” was to at least stop the “even more people” part.

Now, Jesus says, “offer no resistance.”  What good does responding with more violence do?  Jesus says to turn the other cheek.  To this, I offer one clarification.  Some biblical scholars say the strike on the right cheek won’t not have been an attack but rather symbolized an “insult.”  Thus, Jesus isn’t necessarily saying not to defend ourselves.  What need to ask ourselves, “what kind of response would be appropriate?”

For instance, if anyone presses us “into service for one mile,” going for “two miles” could be a powerful witness to our Christian love.

What should our response be based on?

Here I go to what we hear in Leviticus, “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God am holy.”  What does it mean to be “holy”?

God is holy by his very nature.  It is not beyond our reach to try to be holy.  To be holy is to be different than what this world seeks.  To be holy is to be set apart from anything evil.

Thus, we hear, “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.”   “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge.”  This might not be easy but it is what the Lord calls us to.

The Lord sets the example of this when, “He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills.  He redeems your life from destruction.”  The Lord is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness.”

In short, the Lord responds with mercy.  The Lord responds with love.

In setting the example, God says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  It’s all about love. 

In the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “thy kingdom come.”  Revenge, grudges, or hatred do not build up God’s kingdom.  If we want to change the world in accord with God’s Will, we need to love.

Who are we to love?

Leviticus says our neighbor.  By the time of Jesus, some had come to say, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemies.”  You will not find “hate your enemies” anywhere in the Jewish law.  It was a human add-on. 

Jesus corrects this by saying, “love your enemies”.  Once again, Jesus sets a high bar.  He admits this when He says, “For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?  Do not tax collectors do the same?” 

Loving our enemies is at least difficult if not a contradiction in terms.  If we love them, are they really our enemies?  They might have wronged us.  That’s okay, in sinning we have wronged God but God shows us mercy.  Then, we need to follow God’s example and show mercy.

Jesus also tells us to “pray for those who persecute you.”  When, not if, you pray for your enemies, what do you pray for?  Do you pray for them to be punished?  Do you pray that they realize that you are right and they are wrong?  Or do you pray for them to turn their hearts to God?  Do you pray for their salvation?

It’s not easy.  Jesus’ final words in today’s gospel are “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Perfect, that might seem impossible.  We most often define “perfect” as to be without any fault or defect.  Other definitions include “corresponding to an ideal” or “faithfully reproducing the original” (definitions taking from Merriam Webster Dictionary Android phone app).  Jesus is telling us to be like God our Father.  God is the ideal.  He is the original that we need to copy.  We do sin but we are to strive to do God’s Will.  We are called to love God and love our neighbor.

On Wednesday we will begin Lent.  We receive ashes as a sign of our repentance.  We seek to become holy, to become perfect like our heavenly Father.  Where do you fall short of loving God and loving your neighbor? 

Is there something you can do this Lent to change that?

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