19 February 2017: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Lv 19:1-2, 17-18 Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13 1 Cor 3:16-23 Mt 5:38-48

Called to be holy, called to be perfect

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. The gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. This week’s readings call disciples to holiness by being as perfect as the Father.

In the first reading from Leviticus, God calls Israel to be holy by obeying God’s laws. These laws include attitudes and actions towards one’s fellow Israelites–the neighbor. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because the instruction about holiness matches the second reading and the instruction to love is the basis for today’s gospel.

The second reading continues Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Last week, Paul told the Corinthians that they must hear what the Spirit teaches. This week, Paul addresses the Corinthian’s factions and wisdom-seeking. The Corinthian ekklesia (believing community) is a temple because God’s Spirit lives in the community, making them holy. By dividing the ekklesia into factions, the Corinthians have defiled the temple and endangered their holiness. To help the Corinthians restore their spiritual balance, Paul explains everyone’s place in serving God’s kingdom: the ekklesia leaders serve the ekklesia, who serve Christ, who serves God.

Matthew’s gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. Today Jesus again challenges his disciples to go beyond the Law’s requirements and to become as perfect as their heavenly Father. The reading has three parts:

  • Release the need to retaliate. Hebrew scripture’s law “an eye for an eye” (Ex 21:24) was meant to limit revenge–punishment or restitution should not exceed the injury done. Although the Law granted a wronged person the right to retribution, Jesus’ new law forbids all retaliation. When insulted or dishonored, a disciple must break the cycle of retaliation and not demand what is legally his.
  • Love your enemies. Hebrew scripture contains no command requiring Jews to hate their enemies, but hating enemies is assumed to be just, especially when these foreigners are state or religious enemies. Jesus extends the “love the neighbor” commandment to even the enemy and the persecutor. Jesus teaches that God is Father to all humans, therefore all humans are family and deserve familial love.
  • Be as perfect as the Father. Hebrew scriptures calls Jews “to be holy, just as your God is holy” (first reading). First-century Jews understood holiness as separation–from sin, sinners, and gentiles. Jesus calls his disciples not simply to be holy, but to be perfect “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Disciples imitate their Father’s perfect love through actions and attitudes: replace anger with love and forgiveness; replace selfish desire with love; replace honor/shame with forgiveness and love; replace deceit with plain-spoken truth, replace retaliation with generosity, replace hate with love.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to recognize that simple observance of a law does not produce love. Rules don’t transform people, but encountering love does. Disciples must cultivate attitudes and actions that transform them and all who encounter them. Jesus calls us to go beyond conformity to the Law and to imitate the Father’s perfect love. Every day we have the opportunity to transform anger, selfishness, deceit, retaliation, and hate into perfect love. This is how we change the world and ourselves. Doesn’t the world need transforming? Don’t we?

—Terence Sherlock

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