Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 19, 2017

Deacon Blaine Barclay

We see the same pattern in this week’s gospel as we saw last week.  Jesus quotes the Torah, the Law of Moses, ’You have heard that it was said’, and then offers his own ‘first person’ interpretation of the law of Moses; ’’But I say to you’’.  Again, we find that Jesus’ teaching radicalizes, goes beyond and fulfills the teaching of Torah.  He goes right to the heart of the law.

The Torah teaches the law of proportional retaliation; “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”.  Jesus teaches, “turn the other cheek”, and “go the second mile”.  The Torah teaches, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy”.  The neighbour being your follow Israelite, the enemy been pretty much anybody else.  Jesus teaches, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.  So, Jesus takes a firm stand against proportional revenge, and teaches us to love even our enemies.  What a radical love this is, a love not based simply on the bonds of friendship or family. Everybody understands this latter kind of love, the love of friendship and family, it is rooted in the natural bonds of affection, mutual feeling and reciprocity, even when it is wounded and fragmented.  It is, as our gospel today says, ’’Loving those who love you,’’ whether friends or family or members of the same group. According to Jesus, as foundational as it is, this kind of love is really nothing special or unique, even though you could say that it is the glue that holds civil society together. ’’Do not even tax collectors do the same.’’ ‘’Do not even the gentiles do the same?’’ says Jesus. Jesus asks us to walk with him the second mile love, invites us into a love that operates on a whole new level.  Again, a love that, ’Turns the other cheek’, ’Goes the second mile,’ that loves even the ’enemy’, and the ’persecutor’.  Think for a moment of the closest thing you have to an enemy or persecutor.  How easy is it or would it be for you to love them? And remember, it doesn’t say that we have to ‘like’ them, only love them. But still, is this not an impossible love?  A love without measure, without restraint or limit.

No mere human love, this love, but an invasive love that shatters and disrupts our normal forms of human interaction; In the Greek of the New Testament it is called, ‘Agape’, in Latin, ‘Caritas’, a love that expects nothing in return, refuses the measure of reciprocity.  A love that is an unconditional affirmation of the good of the other.  Benevolence, a love that wills the good of the other.  In short, God’s love, the kind of love that only God can love with, but a love into which we are invited to share. A love which both exceeds our capacity, and yet, by participation, is really ours to give, which comes from the heart. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, ’’because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’’(Rom.5:5). To love with the kind of love that God has for each one of us.  Only grace, only God’s self communication in grace can make my narrow heart capable of such a love toward the other.

And if loving with God’s love was not enough to exceed our expectations, expand our hopes, and shatter the narrowness of our vision; Jesus hits us with another whammy. He says, ’’Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’’ We may find ourselves reacting something like the following. ‘So, now Jesus expects us to be perfect?  Sounds like an invitation to a whole lot of Catholic guilt to me.  Who needs it, right?’  But, let us not be in a hurry to dismiss what Jesus wants to teach us here, what kind of life he is inviting us into.  The word translated here as ’perfect’ means ‘whole’ or ‘complete’.  Jesus is inviting us into nothing less than the fullness of life.  As St. Irenaeus puts it, ’The glory of God is a human being fully alive’.  God wants for each one of us nothing less than human wholeness, that each one of us grow into our full stature as a human being, complete, whole, fully alive.  This is what holiness is.  Human wholeness, entering into our shared, restored, elevated humanity. Healed of the wound that has made us less than what we are. Holiness is wholeness; a participation in God’s overflowing plenitude. As our first reading today says; ’’You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’’. (Lev.19:2).  In conclusion, as The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, ’’All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. All are called to holiness: ’Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’’’. (CCC # 2013).