FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Reflection for February 19, 2023
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (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
The Scripture readings on this Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time issue three calls to us– to be holy as the Lord our God is holy; to maintain harmony and unity in the community; and to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Joe is angry because he has it in his head that someone stole his wallet. He walks into a church to steal someone else's wallet, but he has a change of heart during the service. He confesses to Fr Ernesto afterwards about what his intentions had initially been. Fr Ernesto asks, "What made you change your mind?" Joe says, "In your sermon on the Ten Commandments when you got to 'Thou shall not commit adultery,' I remembered where I left my wallet!"
In the Old Testament, holiness meant imitation of God, and being set apart from the rest of the world by living according to the Torah or “the Law”, contained in the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. In Leviticus, the first reading, holiness consists of not hating “your brother or sister in your heart,” of taking “no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people,” and of loving your neighbor as yourself. We have to note that the "neighbor" in this supreme law of love in the Old Testament was restricted to the fellow members of the Israelite community (Deuteronomy 15:3). In essence, loving those close to us who are part of our own people but being wary of outsiders who wish us harm was then an acceptable attitude in dealing with others.
On January 1, 1993, Jaime Sin, former Cardinal Arcbishop of Manila, was visited by Sri Chinmoy, an Indian spiritual leader at EDSA Shrine. The "good Sin" jokingly confided to the humble guru, "This is the place to pray and worship, but people come to me only with their complaints." Then, the cardinal archbishop recollected, "We had a meeting in Japan and the one who represented the Hindu religion was the nephew of Mahatma Gandhi. And there was someone from the Muslim faith – the Executive General Secretary, who is living in Sri Lanka. The Dalai Lama was also there. We were talking about peace. In our talks there were no differences. Sri Chinmoy replied, "All roads lead to God's House. That is our destination. Although we may live in different houses, because we were born into different religions, our destination is the same." Cardinal Sin continued, "I said, 'We are all saying the same thing. Only your terminology is different.' They said, 'Yes, there is nothing different. We will all go to Heaven because we are all seeking peace.'" Sri Chinmoy replied, "Peace-dreamers, peace-lovers and peace-promoters are all in the same boat. So we are all in the same boat." To which Cardinal Sin replied, "'Blessed are the peace-makers because they will see the Face of God.' It is one of the Beatitudes. May God bless you and please bless me!"
Paul, writing to the Corinthians, compares their community to a temple where God is present. He teaches that by maintaining harmony and unity, the community becomes God’s sanctuary and they become sharers in God’s holiness. Those who divide and destroy it will suffer condemnation.
Once there were two owners of convenience stores in Barangay Bangayan: Daleng of Magdalena Sari-sari Store and Luz of Luzviminda General Merchandise. Their stores were across the street from each other, and the two had a very aggressive competition. One day an angel came to Daleng of Magdalena Sari-sari Store and said, “The Lord has sent me to tell you that because you have been reciting your Rosaries everyday and attending Mass every Sunday, you may have one wish. Whatever you ask for, however extravagant, you will be given. But you must understand that whatever you receive, your rival, Luz of Luzviminda General Merchandise will receive two-fold.” The cunning store owner thought for a few moments and finally said, “I wish to be made blind in one eye!”
In our Gospel, Jesus proposes that becoming “perfect” means imitating God and transforming the human world by non-retaliation and all-inclusive love, putting an end to violence and fostering the well-being of all human beings. Doing this they “become perfect” like God, who, according to the Psalmist, is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”:
First, there is the issue of violence and abuse. The old testament commandment was meant to moderate vengeance. The principle of reciprocity or “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” attitude was a sound law that prevented the escalation of violence through the demand for direct correspondence between crime and punishment. The punishment should not exceed the injury done. However, Jesus forbids even this proportionate retaliation. Using three captivating examples - turning the other cheek, resigning one’s rights in court and going further than required – Jesus points out that the only effective way to end violence and abuse is non-retaliation and forgiveness. He calls for an unselfish attitude which not only refuses to retaliate but also one that does not resist, even when it would be legally right to do so; such an attitude which subordinates ones own rights to benefit others. Those who follow this share in God’s holiness. In Jesus' words, they become “perfect”.
Second, Jesus amplified the love-of-neighbor principle for His followers. In his time, the demand for neighborly love was limited to the fellow members of the Israelite community. It seems, that in the popular understanding of the day, it was also combined with the command of hating one’s enemy. Appealing to God as the supreme example, Jesus teaches that the disciples must extend their love to all, regardless of the response they receive, or the ethnic identity of the recipients. This is so because God makes his rain fall, and his light shine, upon all, regardless of how they relate to him, or of their moral standing. The Greek word for “perfect” used here is “teleios,” which literally means to be complete. We are to measure our completion as human beings and followers of Jesus by our capacity to love others fully, as God loves us — without conditions, preferences or exclusions. Here again Jesus goes far beyond the explicit teaching of the Law and offers an ethics in sharp contrast to human values.
To conclude our reflection, let us pray the Peace Prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. He may not have written the words of the prayer attributed to him, but he certainly lived them. It teaches us to love our neighbors and enemies, to not let evil force us to fight it with its own weapons of evil but instead fight it with the weapons of God himself:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is dispair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
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Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum