||Home > Church > 2014-02-17 10:10:23
7th Sunday - 23 February 2014
Lev 19:1-2, 17-18; I Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48
In Martin Luther King's sermon, "Knock at Midnight," King says, "My brother A.D. and I were traveling from Atlanta to Chattanooga on a dark and stormy night. For some reason, travelers were very discourteous that night. Hardly a single driver dimmed their lights. Finally A.D. who was driving, said, 'I have had enough' as he powered his lights back on bright. I said, 'Don't do that, you are going to cause a wreck and get us killed.’ Somebody must have sense enough to dim their lights, to break the cycle of hate. If somebody doesn't have sense enough to turn on the dim and beautiful lights of love, we are all going to plunge into the abyss."' So a suicide bomber blows up a crowded bus in Israel. Israel responds by destroying an entire Palestinian village. The Palestinians react with more suicide bombers. Who is going to break the cycle of hate? A Chinese Proverb puts it succinctly, "Whoever pursues revenge should dig two graves; one for his injurer and one for himself."
Today’s readings explain the basis of Jewish and Christian morality, the holiness of the loving, merciful and compassionate One God. God’s chosen people were, and are, expected to be holy people sharing God’s holiness by embodying His love, mercy and forgiveness. Hence, the first reading, taken from the book of Leviticus, gives the holiness code: “Be holy, for I the Lord, your God, am holy.” It also gives us the way to share God’s holiness: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The responsorial psalm challenges us to be like our God –kind, merciful and forgiving. In the second reading St. Paul gives us an additional reason to be holy. We are to keep our bodies holy because we are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit lives in us. In the Gospel passages taken from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus condemns even the mild form of the “Law of the Talion, (Lex Talionis),” the tribal law of retaliation. Instead of the restricted retaliation allowed by Moses, Jesus gives his new law of love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation and no retaliation. For Jesus, retaliation, or even limited vengeance, has no place in the Christian life, although graceful acceptance of an offense requires great strength, discipline of character as well as strengthening by God’s grace. The second part of today’s Gospel passage is the central part of the Sermon on the Mount. It presents the Christian ethic of personal relationships: love one’s neighbors and forgive one’s enemies. It tells us that what makes Christians different is the grace with which they treat others with loving kindness and mercy, even if they don’t deserve it. We have to love our enemies with agápe love, not because our enemies deserve our love, but because Jesus loves them so much that he died for them.
The first reading, taken from the book of Leviticus, gives the holiness code: “Be holy, for I the Lord, your God, am holy.” The reading teaches us that we share God’s holiness when we obey the two great commandments: 1) “Love your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. 2) “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The reading further instructs us that when we refuse to take revenge or bear a grudge against another we trying to imitate the holiness of God. In the second reading, St. Paul gives us an additional reason to be holy. We are to keep our bodies holy because we are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit lives in us. The word naos, which Paul uses for temple, refers to the sanctuary, corresponding to the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem where the Lord God chose to dwell. Paul taught that the presence of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in them made their community at Corinth and each of its members a holy temple, the naos of God. The indwelling Holy Spirit helps us by His gifts, fruits and charisms to live the very life of Christ.
Exegesis: Mosaic Law of mild retaliation: During their captivity in Egypt the Jews became familiar with the crude tribal law of retaliation (Lex Talionis = Tit-for-Tat), given by the ancient lawmaker Hammurabi during the period 2285-2242 BC. When this law was first developed, it made life better and more civilized. It restricted revenge and made it commensurate with the offense. Moses instructed the Israelites to follow tit-for-tat retaliation, rather than to wreak total destruction upon their enemies. That is, instead of mutilating or murdering all the members of the offender’s family or tribe, they should discover the offender and only punish him/her with an equal mutilation or harm. Later, a milder version of this law was substituted. It demanded monetary compensation as decided by a judge in place of physical punishment. Moses also gave the Israelites several laws commanding merciful treatment for the enemy (e.g., Lev 19: 18). By advising, “Turn to him the other cheek,” Jesus instructs his followers to forgive an insult gracefully and convert the offender. He commands that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us to prove that we are children of a merciful heavenly Father. The meaning of "turn the other cheek" is “Don’t return insult for insult.” The message of Jesus is, “Don't retaliate.” Instead, we are to win over the aggressor with tough, wise love, so that we may win people to Christ and transform human society into the Kingdom of God.
The true Christian reaction: Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount rejects even the concession of milder retaliation allowed by Moses. For Jesus, retaliation, or even limited vengeance, has no place in the Christian life, although graceful acceptance of an offense requires great strength and discipline of character as well as strengthening by God’s grace. Jesus wants his disciples to repay evil with kindness. Instead of retaliation, Jesus gives his new law of love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation and no retaliation. Jesus illustrates the Christian approach by giving three examples. 1) Turn to him the other cheek: Striking someone on the right cheek requires striking with the back of one’s hand, and according to Jewish concept it inflicts more insult than pain. Jesus instructs his followers to forgive the insult gracefully and convert the offender. It is interesting that Gandhi said, "Everyone in the world knows that Jesus and His teaching are non-violent, except Christians." 2) "If anyone sues you to take away your coat (chitona), let him have your cloak (himation) also": (v. 40). A chitona is a lightweight garment like a shirt (but long like a robe), worn close to the skin. A himation is an outer garment like a coat, and is also long. To surrender both chitona and himation would render a man essentially naked, which suggests that Jesus is using exaggerated language to make the point that we are to defuse conflict by yielding more than is required. Jesus teaches that his followers should show more responsibility and a greater sense of duty than to fight for privileges. 3) Go with him two miles. Roman law permitted its soldiers and other officials to require people to carry a burden for a mile. Service of this sort could be quite oppressive. Here Jesus tells us that a Christian has the duty of responding, even to seemingly unjust demands by helping or serving gracefully, not grudgingly. The principle is this: When we respond to an onerous duty with cheerfulness rather than resentment, we may win over the one who gave us the duty.
Christian ethic of personal relationships: The second part of today’s Gospel passage is perhaps the central and the most famous section of the Sermon on the Mount. It gives us the Christian ethic of personal relationships: love one’s neighbors and forgive one’s enemies. Above all, it tells us that what makes Christians different is the grace with which they treat others with loving kindness and mercy, even if they don’t deserve it. The Old Law never said to hate enemies, but that was the way some Jews understood it. Jesus commands that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us to demonstrate that we are children of a merciful heavenly Father. A Christian has no personal enemies. If we only love our friends, we are no different from pagans or atheists.
We need to love our neighbors and our enemies too: The Greek word used for loving enemies is not storge (natural love towards family members), or philia (love of close friends), or eros (passionate love between a young man and woman), but agápe which is the invincible benevolence or good will for another’s highest good. Since agápe is not natural, practicing it is possible only with God’s help. Agápe love is a choice more than a feeling. We choose to love, not because our enemies deserve our love, but because Jesus loves them so much that he died for them. We have in the Acts of the Apostles the example of St. Stephen, the first martyr, who prayed for those who were putting him to death.
Life messages: 1) We need to have a forgiving heart: Jesus demands that we should forgive, pardon and be generous whether or not our offenders deserve it, and even if we are not loved in return. He also tells us to pray for those who willfully cause us suffering, hardship and unhappiness.
2) We are to try to be perfect, to be like God: We become perfect when we fulfill God’s purpose in creating us, i.e., when we become Godlike by cooperating with His grace. We become perfect when we try to love as God loves, to forgive as God forgives and to show unconditional good will and universal benevolence as God does.
In the movie Gandhi, the great Indian leader is walking one day with a Presbyterian missionary, Charlie Andrews. The two suddenly find their way blocked by young thugs. The Reverend Andrews takes one look at the menacing gangsters and decides to run for it. Gandhi stops him and asks, "Doesn't the New Testament say if an enemy strikes you on the right cheek you should offer him the left?" Andrews mumbles something about Jesus speaking metaphorically. Gandhi replies, "I'm not so sure. I suspect he meant you must show courage--be willing to take a blow, several blows, to show you will not strike back nor will you be turned aside."
(Source: Homilies of Fr. Tony Kadavil)