Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – A

Readings: Is 58:7-10; Ps 112:4-9; 1 Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16

“BE HOLY AS I AM HOLY”

  • Why Go to Church? A church goer wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. “I’ve gone for 30 years now,” he wrote, “and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me I can’t remember a single one of them. So I think I’m wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.” This started a real controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column, much to the delight of the editor.

    It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:“I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this: They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me those meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”When you are DOWN to nothing… God is UP to something! Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible and receives the impossible! Thank God for our physical and spiritual nourishment!

  • Jesus Saves Jesus and Satan were having an ongoing argument about who was better at the computer. They had been going at it for days, and God was tired of hearing all the bickering. Finally God said, “Cool it. l am going to set up a test that will run two hours and l will judge who does a better job.”

    So Satan and Jesus sat down at the keyboards and typed away. They moused. They did spreadsheets. They wrote reports. They sent faxes. They sent e-mails. They sent out e-mail with attachments. They downloaded. They did some genealogy reports. They made cards. They did every known job. But ten minutes before their time was up, lightning suddenly flashed across the sky, thunder rolled, rain poured and, of course, the electricity went off.Satan stared at his blank screen and screamed every cuss-word known in the underworld. Jesus just sighed. The electricity finally flickered back on and each of them restarted their computers. Satan started searching frantically, screaming, “lt’s gone! lt’s all gone! l lost everything when the power went out!”

    Meanwhile, Jesus quietly started printing out all of his files. Satan observed this and became irate. “Wait! He cheated, how did he do it?” God shrugged and said, “Jesus saves.”
  • Which Christian Are You? Two runners prepare for a marathon. One prepares by racing over hills and down the highways and byways every day. He exercises, strengthening his legs. He runs further every day, building enduranœ.The second runner prepares by sleeping two hours extra each day. He eats a lot and does nothing strenuous to upset the condition he feels he is in.

    The day of the marathon race comes. The 26.2 miles. course lies just ahead of the runners at the starting line. The gun goes off; the race begins. And guess who wins’? Of course, the first runner who has done the right kind of preparation.Two Christians prepare for a difficult time ahead. The first spends each day praying and communicating with God. He follows David’s advice, committing to his memory the most helpful portions. And he keeps filled with the Spirit, adhering to Paul’s suggestion.

    The second Christian reads the Bible, but only on Sunday morning when in church. He prays, but only when he is at church or with the family at mealtime. And he thinks the preacher is right when he talks about being filled with the Holy Spirit. He hopes his children will someday be filled with the Spirit like he was when he was a youngster.Then trouble strikes.

    The first Christian was prepared. He takes the difficulty in stride knowing God will help him through every aspect of it. Peace soon attains a column, assured, and deserved victory.

    The second Christian panics. He lashes out at God, at church, at friends, at family. He doesn’t know what God expects him to do. He doesn’t have the assurance of the Word in his heart. He doesn’t have the help of the Holy Spirit, the “friend who sticks closer than a brother.” In desperation, after exhausting all other means of help, he remembers to cry to God for help. In time, God helps, because God loves …And He hopes the man has learned a lesson.

    The first Christian wins an easy victory. The second wins an agonizing, prolonged victory that could have been so much easier. My friends, which Christian are you?

FIRST READING: The book of Leviticus focuses mainly on one of the tribes of Israel: Levi, and particularly on its priests and their duties in regard to divine worship. It is a book intended primarily for priests (Levites) while Deuteronomy is intended primarily for the laity.

The Leviticus account begins with the second year of the exodus, when the Hebrews are already in the middle of the wilderness. As you will recall, the Levitical priesthood came about as a result of the sin of the golden calf (Exodus 32). After Moses had come down the mountain and smashed the tablets, burned the calf and made the Israelites drink water containing the ashes, he stood at the entrance to the camp and said “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me”, and all the Levites rallied to him. They then went through the camp and slew about 3,000 people. Then Moses declared “You have been set apart for the Lord today (the Revised Standard Version says “Today you have ordained yourselves …”), for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” Thus the Levitical priesthood was born. The tabernacle is made, with its altars and regulations about the worship to be given to Yahweh. Now, Moses develops these forms of worship in much more detail: Leviticus is really a manual for that liturgy.

To understand the book properly one must bear in mind two basic reference points: First, Yahweh, the God of Israel, is infinitely holy, inaccessible to man (Exodus 19:21), and therefore totally transcendent (unknowable); Second, despite this He dwells in the midst of His people (Leviticus 23:32; 26:12). Therefore He asks of them not only reverence, love and adoration, but a holiness of life which enables them to live as His true children forever in His presence (Leviticus 11:44; 19:2). Worship and holiness of life are the two main concerns of Leviticus.

Today, we hear one of the rules of conduct which are set out in chapter 19; that of love of neighbor. Other rules included reverence for parents, observance of the Sabbath, avoidance of idolatry, upon harvesting leaving some of the grain in the fields for the poor, and the practice of justice and charity in social dealings.

SECOND READING: There were disagreements; divisions arose, there were jealousies, quarrels, and fanaticism in Corinth. Understandable and excusable behavior between “children,” among infants in the faith (1 Cor 3:1-2), but inconceivable among mature Christians, among “perfect people.”

To denounce the gravity of the situation, Paul uses the image of the temple of God (vv. 16-17).

The community is like a shrine carved from the profane world. It is the Spirit who keeps it together and firm. The divisions that threaten to disrupt and topple the whole construction introduce an opposite and devastating principle. The Lord will treat those who are guilty of a similar disaster with extreme severity: “God—Paul assures—will destroy him” (v. 17). It is the traditional image of the final judgment that was used in rabbinic language, not to describe what will eventually happen, but to emphasize the extreme gravity of an action.

In the second part of the reading (vv. 18-23) the motive of the contrast between the “wisdom of God and that of people” is resumed. The disagreements stem from the fact that the members of the community follow the “wisdom of the world,” as opposed to that of God.

In his letter, Paul has already said that “the gospel is madness in the eyes of people” (1:18,21,23). Today he affirms that the wisdom of men is foolishness to God (v. 19).

The Apostle does not intend to devalue or despise the efforts and ability of human reason. He warns against the delusions of omnipotence and foolish pretensions of those who are convinced that everything can be reduced to what is rational and that we can do without the light of God.

This thought introduces new and challenging meaning in today’s Gospel that Jesus will give to some Old Testament’s interpretations that offer moral choices whose validity is guaranteed by God, not by “the wisdom of this world.”

TODAY’S MASS speaks of the essence of holiness. And why should we be holy? We should be holy, because God himself is holy and we have been created in his image. But what is holiness? Does it consist in saying many prayers? In spending long hours in the church? The First Reading today says it consists negatively, in not hating your own kind, and positively, in loving one’s neighbour as oneself. It is taken for granted that we normally act in our own self-interest. However, the Gospel says we are to act equally in our neighbour’s interest as well. Because, in the long run, it is also in our own long-term interest not just in our future life but here on earth.

In the GOSPEL, as Jesus continues to teach his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, he again reminds his hearers that more is expected of his disciples than was laid down in the Old Testament. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’.” That sounds like a command to take vengeance. On the contrary, it was a counsel of self-restraint — only hurt your opponent to the same degree that he/she hurts you and no more. Also, retaliation could only be authorised by a court. In our own time, it is not unusual to see people take vengeance far beyond the hurt that was done to them.

But Jesus proposes a quite different approach. “Do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile…” What an impractical recipe! How could any self-respecting person follow such stupid advice? Aren’t we taught that to be a man you don’t take things lying down, you give as much good as you get, and even more…?

Yet, is it really stupid? Who is the really strong person: the one who lashes out in anger or the one who remains fully in control of himself? The one who refuses to be brought down to the same level as his attacker?

Let us look at few examples of the Gospel in action:

The Jesuit writer John Powell tells of a man who used to buy his newspaper from a man who always treated him rudely. One day a friend saw this and asked the man why he put up with such behaviour. The man replied, “Why should two of us be rude? Why should I allow another person to manipulate my feelings?”

Example of Jesus

Jesus before his accusers. During his trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus was struck on the cheek and accused of insolence. How did he respond? Did he turn the other cheek? Not exactly. Did he hit back? No. He simply said, “If I have done any wrong, tell me what it is. If not, why do you strike me?” There is no anger, no vindictiveness, no abuse. He simply speaks to his accusers in quiet, reasonable terms in a totally non-violent way. He retains his dignity while they lose theirs in violence and abuse. He does not cringe before them; in fact, he stands up to them.

Let us make it very clear. In the way in which Jesus understands it, turning the other cheek is not weakness; it requires tremendous inner strength and security. We do not see much of that kind of strength from the macho characters on our TV screens. There the slightest offence is to be replied to in a hail of bullets and bombs. But, as we know from the various wars and fallouts around the world, it is bound to fail.

Dealing with enemies

But Jesus is not finished yet. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the pagans do the same?”

Is Jesus out of his mind? Does he really expect genuine, red-blooded human beings to react this way to hostility and violence? How can we possibly love people who do us harm, whom we know to be evil, wicked and corrupt? Are we really to love the likes of Hitler, Stalin, the terrorist and the sexual abuser…?

Problem of love

The problem here is the word ‘love’. Generally speaking, to say we love a person is to have warm feelings of affection towards them or even to be in love with them. Is Jesus asking me to have the same feelings for my life companion as for some terrible human monster? The answer is unequivocally, NO!

‘To love’ in the Gospel context here means to ‘wish the wellbeing of’. It is a unilateral, unconditional desire for the deepest wellbeing of another person. It does not ask me ‘to be in love with’, to have warm feelings for someone who is doing me and others serious harm. That would be ridiculous. But we can sincerely wish the wellbeing of those who harm or persecute us. We pray that they may change, not just for our sake but also for their own. We pray that from hating, hurting people they become loving and caring people.

Most in need

Far from being unreasonable to pray for such people, there are no people who need our prayers more. On the other hand, to hate them in return is simply to make ourselves just the way they are. And we see what happens in our world when hate and violence are returned by hate and violence.

The canker of hate

Nothing eats away at our innards more than resentment, anger, hatred and violence. Sometimes we think we can punish people by hating them but it is we ourselves, not they, who are the real victims. And, of course, it is in our attitude to hostile and misbehaving people that the genuineness of our concern for people is really tested. As Jesus says, it is easy to care for the people who are close to us, who are good to us. To paraphrase the Gospel, even terrorists love terrorists. The Mafia is known for its loyalty to its members – but not to anyone else.

Perfection

The passage concludes with Jesus saying, “Be perfect, then, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This obviously is an ideal, a goal to be aimed at. And the perfection intended is not total perfection but rather to aim at that total impartiality of a God who extends his providential care and love equally to all. In the dry, searing heat of the Middle East, all, good and bad, have to endure the burning sun and enjoy the gentle, cooling rain. God stretches out his caring love to all, good and bad, and he does not love the bad less than the good. So, if we want to identify with Him, we have no right whatever to withdraw our love, that is, our desire for wholeness, from a single person. Whether a person returns our love or God’s love is their problem and their loss.

Pie in the sky

Let us not, then, just see this teaching of Jesus as pie in the sky, something that is hopelessly ideal. If we reflect on it, we will begin to see that this is the only reasonable way for us to deal with people both for our own personal growth and fulfilment and as contributing also to that of others. Jesus is not asking us to do something impossible and unreasonable but to open our eyes and see what is the only really sensible way to live and relate to the people around us.

And why should we treat other people with such reverence and concern? Because, as St Paul says today, “you are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells in you. If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy and you are that temple” — and so is that person next to me right now. Here Paul is speaking specifically of Christians who form the Body of Christ but, in other ways, every single person is made in the image of the Creator and God is present in some way there.

God’s presence

All in all we are being called on to recognise and respond to God’s presence in every single person and creature that we meet. Irrespective of how they behave. And that is true even when the person acts in ways totally contrary to God’s way. In fact, it is precisely then that the God in me has to reach out and affirm the God in the other. Mutual violence only weakens God’s presence in both of us. Paradoxically, the worse a person behaves, the more that one is crying out to be loved and cared for.

At the beginning, we said that the theme of today’s readings was ‘holiness’. Perhaps we now have some idea just where real holiness is to be found..

God is love

Love is giving

Giving is holiness

Holiness is kindness

Kindness is gentleness

Gentleness is strength

Strength is faith

Faith is assurance

Assurance is hope

Hope is divine

Divinity is God.

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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