THEME: BE HOLY, FOR I, THE LORD YOUR GOD, AM HOLY
READINGS: Lev. 19:1-2, 7-18 / Ps. 103 / 1 Cor. 3:16-23 / Matthew 5:38-48
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Five weeks ago, we reflected on God’s call to holiness under the theme, ‘Called to be Saints’. Today’s readings afford us another opportunity to reflect further on the call to holiness. For instance, in the first reading, the Lord God says: ‘Be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy’ (Lev. 19:2). Similarly, in the gospel reading, Jesus Christ enjoins us: ‘Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48).
Let us recall a few points from the homily of weeks’ ago and then consider some practical aspects of the life of holiness given by Jesus in today’s gospel reading (Matt. 5:38-48). Here are three of the salient points from the previous homily:
- To be holy is to be God’s friends or, better still, to be His adopted children.
- Our holiness is by God’s grace.
- We have to cooperate with the grace of God to remain holy.
In today’s gospel reading Jesus offers several ways by which we can cooperate with the grace of God in order to remain holy. Let us consider only two of them:
- We should be charitable to the needy.
- We should be merciful and forgive those who offend us.
No good parent would be happy if his/her wealthy child does not help the needy ones. Similarly, God is not happy when we who are in the position to help others, neglect to do so. Thus, Jesus says in the gospel: ‘Give to anyone who asks’ (Matt. 5:42). He does not say that we should give to only ‘good’ people but to anyone. This is what Christian charity entails.
Charity is the practical demonstration of not only love but of holiness as well. Thus, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI succinctly expresses the relationship between charity and holiness: ‘holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full’ (Catechesis, General Audience of 13 April 2011). Often this means giving a practical help to someone in need in accordance with the teaching of Christ in Matthew 25: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’ (Matt. 25:35-36)’. This kind of charity, according to Pope Francis, is ‘the holiness pleasing to God’s eyes’ (Gaudete et Exsultate, 19 March 2018, #95).
BE MERCIFUL AND FORGIVING
No good parent is happy when his children quarrel and fight each other. Similarly, God is not happy when we hate each other, retaliate and fight among ourselves. Hence from the first reading we hear: ‘You must not bear hatred for your brother’ (Lev. 19:17).
Moses met a situation, in which if you took one of my eyes, my brothers would kill you; if you killed my son, I would kill your whole family; etc. – the revenge or retaliation was far more than the initial offense. So, Moses called for what seemed to be a bit fair: ‘An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot’ (Exodus 21:23-25 / Lev. 24:19, 20 / Deut. 19:21).
But Jesus wants us to be more merciful than that, for which father or mother would be glad to see a son’s hand cut off by another son and the second son retaliate; soon he would have only amputees in his house; or see a daughter take a second daughter’s eye, with the latter retaliating; soon he would have only blind daughters. Thus, someone says that ‘an eye for an eye’ and ‘a tooth for a tooth’ and soon the whole world would be blind and toothless.
Furthermore, let us imagine a poor man’s son damages the windscreen of your car; he has no car for you to damage, so what happens? The best solution, therefore, is not to retaliate or revenge, that is why Jesus says: ‘If someone slaps you on the right cheek, give him the other cheek.’ My brothers and sisters, are we planning vengeance against someone? Is there someone we have not forgiven for days, weeks, months or years? Who is he or she? Jesus says that if they ask for our shirt, we should add our coat. In other words, we should go the extra mile to forgive. As God goes the extra mile (by sacrificing His only begotten Son) to forgive us, so let us go the extra mile to forgive.
Finally, beloved, let us be perfect as our heavenly Father is; let us be holy as our God is! May the holiness of God radiate in our lives as long ago it reflected on the face of Moses anytime he encountered the Lord God. Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis