7th Week in Ordinary Time

Sunday, February 23, 2020
7th Week in Ordinary Time

First reading: Lv. 19:1-2,17-18

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy. “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”

Second reading: 1 Cor. 3:16-23

Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy. Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written: God catches the wise in their own ruses, and again: The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.

Gospel: Mt. 5:38-48

Jesus said to his disciples: “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. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

In other words Fr. Pio Estepa, SVD (United States of America)

On this Sunday, Mother Church invites us to understand the gospel in the light of the first reading. Both find a striking parallelism in these verses:

Leviticus 19:1 Matthew 5:48
Be holy, Be perfect,
for I, the Lord your God, am holy. just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

By replacing “holy” with “perfect,” Jesus makes it clear that holiness amounts to perfection. The Hebrew word for “holy” is qadosh, which means to be “separate as wholly special.” So the dynamic sense of Be perfect! is “Excel beyond mediocrity, make a difference!”

On the other hand, the Greek word “perfect” (teleios) means “entire, complete, full, mature.” So the dynamic sense of Jesus’ command Be perfect! is “Strive to wholly fulfill.” Fulfill what?

Lv. 19:18 Mt. 5:44
You shall love Love
your neighbor as yourself. your enemies.

There goes another surprising replacement: “enemy” for “neighbor.” It is tempting to quip that, often enough indeed, our neighbors happen to be also our enemies. Yet, joking aside, the author of Leviticus restricts the reference to “neighbor” to just one’s “fellow-Israelite.” Jesus broadens its meaning to include everyone—Jew or Gentile, friend or foe. We find here, therefore, the toughest mandate of our perfect Master! He makes loving one’s enemies as the final test for spiritual maturity or Christian discipleship. It is hard enough to like and accept ourselves as we are; how harder it is still to love those around us. It is hard enough to love persons close to us; how harder it is still to grant kindness to those who have offended us. Given only our human will, we cannot. Only divine grace can enable us to push our love to such noble heights.

One may ask, “What do we gain in obeying Jesus’ toughest mandate?” A famous German novelist named Hermann Hesse somewhere writes, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him (or her) that is part of yourself.” In other words, our “enemy” outwardly mirrors the “inner me” that we dare not face yet. So, by kindly empathizing with the one we hate, this helps us grow in self-knowledge and self-acceptance.

Another gain in loving our enemy is inner liberation. Hate is a poison that exhausts much of our emotional energy on negative thoughts. The longer we let it fester in our minds and hearts, the easier it would turn us—gradually and unawares—into bitter monsters. So, no matter how hard forgiving may be, it is the only road to inner cleansing and healing. The “enemy” may not at all merit our forgiveness for not even bothering to ask for it. But even before pardon is asked for, we deserve enjoying our inner grace.

Tags: Bible reflection, Witness to the Word