7th Sunday in Ordinary Time A - Feb. 19, 2023


7th Sunday in Ordinary Time A - Feb. 19, 2023

Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18; 1 Corinthians 3: 16-23; Matthew 5: 38-48


Theme: “Love your Enemies and Pray for your Persecutors”

Today’s Gospel is a continuation of the passages we heard on the previous three Sundays. They are the teachings of Jesus called “Sermon of the Mount”. Last Sunday, we read Jesus’ four of the Six Antithetical Statements, “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…”. They addressed murder (vv. 21-26), adultery (vv. 27-30), divorce (vv. 31-32), and taking oaths (vv. 33-37). Today’s Gospel concerns the last two antitheses which deal with vengeance (vv. 38-42) and hatred of enemies (vv. 43-48). The theme of our Gospel has good connections with this Sunday’s first and second readings. The author of the book of Leviticus calls the Israelites and each one of us to be holy for the Lord, our God, is holy. Saint Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth including you and me that we are the “Temple of God” and that the Spirit of God dwells in us. So, all readings tell us that we are holy people because we are God’s temple. Consequently, we cannot retaliate nor hate our enemies.

The author of the book of Leviticus commences our first reading passage with God calling the Israelites and all of us to holiness. This call refers to the covenant between God and the people of Israel at Sinai. There, God promised them that if they obeyed him completely and kept his covenant, they would be a kingdom of priests, a “holy nation” to him. All people answered together, “Everything the Lord has said, we will do”. (Exodus 19: 5-8). God kept his promise. He made them a “holy nation”. But they did not keep their part of the covenant as they disobeyed God. Now in our first reading passage, God called them to be holy as he, God, is holy. We Christians are the “New Israel” today. From our baptism, we became the “holy nation”. Jesus did his part in redeeming us with his Blood on the cross. By his Passion and Death, he gave us eternal salvation. To enjoy the fullness of this redemption, we must fulfill our part of the covenant which is to keep our Baptismal Promises and live as a “holy nation”. That is why, every time that sin breaks our covenant with God, we need to repair it through the sacrament of reconciliation as soon as possible so that we continue to enjoy the eternal salvation that Jesus has granted us.

Notice, that even though the people of Israel disobeyed God several times, God did not tire of them. He continued inviting them to respect their sacred agreement that they concluded at Mount Sinai for them to be a “holy nation” and save their souls. Likewise, although we break our covenant so many times, God is not tired of us. He continues to invite us to consider the eternal salvation that he has offered us through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of his Only Son, Jesus Christ. To return to God’s covenant, meaning, to be a “holy nation”, in this first reading passage, God reminds us of some important laws for the Israelites and all of us to observe. We are called to not bear hatred for our brothers and sisters in our hearts. When we reprove our fellow humans, we should not incur sin because of them. We should take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of the people in our families and societies. We are called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. (Leviticus 19: 17-18). Jesus too deals with these instructions in our Gospel reading.

Our Gospel passage analyzes the last two of the six antithetical statements of Jesus in his teachings called the “Sermon on the Mount”. These fifth and sixth antitheses concern vengeance and hatred. Here, Jesus intends to correct the common interpretation of the Law of Moses as well as to correct the Law of Moses itself.

The fifth antithesis quotes the lex talionis (retaliation law) in Leviticus 24: 20. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” (Vv. 38-39a). That was the Mosaic standard for court justice. We can observe that this retaliation law was itself an act of mercy insofar as a judge was expected to limit the punishment of offenders to the proportion of the harm they committed. Prior to this retaliation law, the evildoers used to be sentenced with more punishment than they caused. Maybe it was with good reason that offenders should be punished more than what they inflicted. For instance, if one eye of an evil man is pulled out as a proportion punishment for one eye of his fellow brother that he destroyed, at the end of the day, both the evildoer and victim end up with one eye. Humanly thinking, how do both the perpetrator and victim end up with one eye destroyed proportionally while the perpetrator committed a crime, but the victim did nothing wrong? Is it not fair perhaps to have both eyes of the perpetrator destroyed so that his fate is worse than his victim’s? But the retaliation law did not work like that. Rather, it limited the punishment to the amount of evil done.

While the retaliation law was already seen as an act of mercy, Jesus, in our Gospel passage, demands his disciples and each one of us to replace this law of retaliation with nonviolence and acts of love. He calls us to offer no resistance to those who harm us and even to do more favor to them. He gives us four concrete examples (in vv. 39b-42) to show us how nonretaliation is a strategy that breaks cycles of violence. First, “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” (v. 39b). Second, “If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.” (v. 40). Third, “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.” (v. 41). And fourth, “Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” (v. 42).

No doubt, Jesus’ teaching raises some important questions about self-defense and justice. Is Jesus asking us to just watch an irrational gunman who runs into our school and shouts at our kids without doing anything? When we are confronted with a home invasion, are we expected to let burglars kill us and still our belongings? The answer is no. The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the moral obligation for self-defense in the section dealing with the fifth commandment (CCC. No. 2263-2267).  One has a grave moral obligation to do anything necessary, up to lethal force, to protect himself or others from perpetrators.

We should carefully understand what Jesus wants to teach us here. The examples that he cites do not deal with threats to one’s life but with insults and humiliation that Christians are called to bear.  Moreover, our Lord asks us to give more than what those who intend to insult and humiliate us impose on us. For instance, the first example talks about striking someone on his right cheek. For a right-handed person, striking someone on his right cheek should be a back-handed slap. In the Jewish culture, a back-handed slap is not an immediate threat to life but an insult. Jesus says that we should offer the other cheek as well. Likewise, suing for one’s tunic was a big humiliation to a debtor because the tunic represented the only riches that the poor could possess. Jesus’ recommendation to the debtor here is to hand his cloak to the creditor as well. The one who uses his power to humiliate you, pressing you into service for one mile, offer him more than he asks out of your generosity. To the one who wants to borrow something from you, give him more than what he requests. Responding positively and with more generosity to those whose intention is to insult, humiliate, and shame us is a strategic way to end the cycle of evil and initiate a possible reconciliation.

The last antithesis deals with the Law of Moses which recommends the love of neighbors and hate of enemies. Note that nowhere in the laws of Moses or in the entire Scriptures is there a law that commands the people of Israel to hate their enemies. However, as the Israelites were under the covenant with God, to fulfill their part of the sacred deal, the law commanded them to practice deeds of fidelity toward their “neighbors”, which means, toward their own people. (Leviticus 19: 18). As the law did not mention those outside of the covenant community, it was generally understood that they were commanded to love their own people and “hate” those who are not from their community. Also, note that “hate”, miseo, in this context connotes “love less” but not necessarily active hostility. (See Matthew 6: 24). The new interpretation of this law that Jesus brings here commands them and all of us to include all people, those inside and outside the covenant community, those inside and outside of our country, those inside and outside of our Church and families, and those who love us and hate us. He shows us two concrete ways to love our “enemies”: praying for those who persecute us (v. 44) and welcoming outsiders (v. 47).

Jesus came to inaugurate the kingdom of heaven. We Christians, as we are the temple of God as Saint Paul says in our second reading, belong to this kingdom. In six antithetical statements (last Sunday and this Sunday’s Gospels), he gave us his interpretation of the laws that we, the citizens of this kingdom, must follow. May this Eucharistic celebration empower us to follow Jesus’ new interpretation of the Law so that we improve our relationships with God and with one another. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

No comments:

Post a Comment

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time B – July 7, 2024

  14th Sunday in Ordinary Time B – July 7, 2024 Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6   Theme: What to Do When We Experienc...