19 February 2011

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
Our heavenly Father is calling us to be like Him – holy. We may have an idea as to what constitutes holiness, but to be holy like God is holy is beyond our full understanding, and without Him, completely impossible. In fact, if not for the Incarnation, it still would not be possible; but Jesus came and destroyed all the walls that prevented us from becoming like Him. The only obstacle He left alone, because of His love for us, is our free will. The word of God encourages us to reprove our brothers and sisters in the Lord to avoid harboring hatred for them in our heart. Saint Augustine reminds us, however, in accordance with God’s law, that love should regulate any complaints against another brother or sister. Philo of Alexandria, an ancient Jewish biblical scholar, understands our Lord’s law in this way: 'O Lord, we do not rejoice at the misfortunes of our enemy, having learned from Your holy laws to be compassionate towards the distress of others. We thank You for delivering us from our afflictions'.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Like the First Reading, holiness is a key ingredient to this Reading as well. But again, it’s a brand of holiness that is beyond the grasp of full human comprehension. We all know that we bumble many things, do things we shouldn’t do and get caught up in things we have no business entertaining. And yet, Saint Paul is trying to sell the idea that we are a temple of God – and holy. The holy apostle surely understood this apparent contradiction by writing: 'Let no one deceive himself'. Everyone likes to be 'in' with the 'in crowd' but Saint Paul is teaching us that to be 'in' with heaven’s crowd is to preserve ourselves in innocence of morality and purity of faith – quite a radically different environment from today’s moral structure. It is only by the grace of God, dwelling within us, that we are able to guard ourselves from the things which deceptively seek our ruin. To be fools in this age is a call to return to simplicity – making good use of the gifts of this world – for as Saint Paul assures us: 'Everything belongs to you'. Jesus came to make known the glory of God and all His perfections, to which He calls us to share in. Each of us, as baptized members of the body of Christ, are disciples, like Paul and Cephas. We are sent to promote salvation, which is completely in harmony with the Church’s mission of evangelization.

Gospel, Saint Matthew 5:38-48
What is offered here by our Saviour are admonitions for the banner of authentic Christianity: to forgive one another and to bear our sufferings with patience. These are not easy words to hear from our Lord, and perhaps it’s worth mentioning that these words were also difficult, if not more difficult to hear, by the witnesses of Jesus’ teaching, because of how they understood the old Law. One of the great weaknesses of being human is our stubborn inability to accept a different take on something that has already been engraved into our minds. In action/adventure movies, for example, we like to see the bad guy get what he deserves in the end. To see the victim forgive his/her assailant makes for a disappointing conclusion to the movie. In this Gospel passage and others, this is the Jesus in which we are tempted to keep a safe distance from. It’s a blast to follow Him from town to town and read about the miracles He performed; but suddenly we get a Jesus Who is delivering difficult words – not only difficult to hear – but He wants us to embrace them. After all, a watered down Christianity is much easier to live – isn’t it? But really what Jesus is saying to us is that the way of the world is not the way of God, and we, therefore, have to be radically different. True discipleship demands that each day, little by little, we are being transformed into the Image of Jesus. What makes the difficult sayings of Jesus so difficult is that we’re not divine beings; but, what makes not being divine bearable is that there is a sacrament of healing. Otherwise, love for Jesus could end up in an abyss of disappointment and self-pity due to our failings. Christianity is a courageous act. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: 'Christ Jesus always did what was pleasing to the Father, and always lived in perfect communion with Him. Likewise Christ’s disciples are invited to live in the sight of the Father Who sees in secret, in order to become perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect' (CCC 1693). Our Redeemer’s words are about love – not pacifism. Every human being has dignity and is loved by God. Thus, to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect requires love. We’re well-trained at voicing four letters words at those who perpetrate something contrary to decency. Our heavenly Father, however, looks at such a person with love and sees him/her as someone who in human weakness succumbed to evil. That is love and that is perfection. Isn’t that really the point of Christ being tempted in the desert: to draw out into the daylight the one who hides in darkness, who crawls under rocks and gets others to do his dirty work – in other words, the real enemy?