The Lord demands holiness of life from every Christian. Holiness is our vocation as Christians. The readings of today gave us the means by which to become holy or perfect as our heavenly father is. The means is unconditional love for everyone including our enemies.
In the first reading, the Lord said: be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy; love your neighbors as yourself; bear no grudge or hatred against anyone and do not revenge or retaliate any wrong done to you, instead love generously. The Psalm said that the Lord is kind and merciful. It is a song of thanksgiving to the Lord for his love and compassion to his people. We are expected to be kind and merciful to others.
Saint Paul in the second reading said that we are temples of God and the holy spirit of God dwells in us. He discouraged us from destroying God’s temple to avoid punishment from God. He encouraged us to seek and to live according to the wisdom of God but not the wisdom of the world. The wisdom of the world is foolishness in the sight of God. Therefore, we should not accept and live by it.
In the gospel, Jesus gave rules for his disciples to follow in order to be perfect as our heavenly father is. He discouraged hatred for our enemies and retaliation for wrong done to us. Instead, he encouraged us to love and be generous with our time and resources especial to those in need. He asked us not only to love our loved ones but to also love our enemies. This is very difficult teaching. But it means our love as Christians must not be conditional. We are to love as God does. God loves everyone including the good and the bad people alike. Our love should surpass that of the unbelievers. Our love should be all inclusive with no conditions attached.
To be holy like God means seeking and living according to God’s wisdom; which includes being merciful, generous, compassion, loving, and forgiving to everyone including our enemies. Anyone who is in need is our neighbor and deserves love and assistance from us. Unfortunately, many people prefer worldly wisdom than the wisdom of God. We see living according to God’s wisdom as weakness and cowardice, but acquiring power and material possessions as a mark of strength and success. Worldly wisdom, possessions, and successes are temporal and cannot give deep and lasting peace or joy to us. Instead, they bring into our lives terrible miseries, unhappiness, depression and frustration in our lives. Worldly wisdom leads to pride, greed, anger, hatred, violence and destruction of lives and property.
The Lord asked us to pray for and bless our enemies. Jesus and Steven, the first martyr after Jesu, prayed for their persecutors before their death. As Christians, we are called to pray for our persecutors/enemies for God to bring peace and conversion to their hearts. As Christians, we have been called to promote love and peace by all means. This is very difficult teaching; however, the Lord wants us to practice living according these rules in order to become holy as he is. The world sees living according to these values as foolishness, weakness, senseless, and cowardice. That is why we see Christians being persecuted in different parts of the world as a result of promoting these values. Those who are powerful and rich in the worldly sense do not appreciate these values. These values restrain them from using their power and wealth the way they want to and especially against the weak and poor people of the world.
However, this teaching does not mean being passive and surrender to injustices and abuses. Turning the other check should not be interpreted literally. We must understand the cultural and social context in which this was said. At that time, it was forbidden to use the left hand for anything good or positive. The left hand was used for negative or unclean things. Therefore, to slap a slave or inferior person you need to use your right hand and slap the person on the right cheek. Superior person do this to their slaves alone. But if the slave turns the other cheek, it means offering the left cheek for the slapped. The superior person cannot slap the slave on the left cheek because it will mean throwing away his dignity. By turning the other cheek, the slave is challenging and telling the superior that he is not a slave but someone with equal dignity with the superior. Then the superior person is force to stop abusing the slave. Remember the Jewish people were like slave under the Roman Empire.
Therefore, this saying is teaching us to be strong and stand up against any form of injustice and abuse in our society that threatens lives. For example, abortion, domestic violence, discrimination, bullying and many other forms of injustices in our society are to be challenged by Christians. It does mean you should not submit to injustice and abuse by anyone. Therefore, in the face of any evil or danger that threatens your life you can escape it or avoid it or run away from it, challenge it or embark on self-defense. You are to protect lives and property from being stolen or destroyed by evil people. Note that there is difference between challenging and retaliating unjustly attacks of the enemy.
For instance, Jesus forcefully drove doing illegal sales and cheating at temple. He challenged an unjust slapped by the guard during his trial before the high priest. He avoided being thrown over the cliff to die. He also encouraged his disciples to sell their cloaks and buy swords for self-defense and protection. Saint Paul also protested being flogged and put into prison as a Roman citizen. These are some examples of defense against unjust attacks and abuses. We are called to promote reconciliation, love and peace in our society and at the same time to resist any form of injustice and abuse to our lives. It is our right to defend and protect our lives and properties from the enemy by using legitimate means and authorities like the lawyer, police, fire fighters and the military. Remember, we are not to attack or seek revenge against any wrongs but to forgive all wrongs done to us. And we are called to be vigilant and challenge any attacks on our lives and properties.
SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, A
BE HOLY AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS HOLY
Our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven after promising his disciples the Holy Spirit as their source of power, and instructing them to be witnesses to world. Jesus ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit descended from heaven to strengthen his disciples. This feast is the celebration of Jesus’ glory after his suffering and death; the glory in which we also hope to share.
Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the good news and bear witness to the world. ‘’you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’’ (Acts 1:8). ‘’Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.’’ (Mt 28: 19). ‘’Go into the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.’’ (Mk 16: 15). In these passages, the disciples received instructions to preach the good news with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
As Christians, and by virtue of our baptism, we have been called and commissioned to be evangelizers. Unfortunately, many of us, Catholics Christians are not living up to the expectations of our calling. After the reception of the sacraments we go to sleep as regards our faith. We are not involved in any activities or ministries that would help us demonstrate our faith to the world. Most of us cannot defend our faith when ask, either because we don’t know or we are shy or afraid to speak about our faith as Catholics. The Catholic Church is richly blessed with the fullness of the truth, yet many of us cannot bear witness to all of these riches. Let us renew our commitment to be true disciples everywhere we go, beginning from our families and communities. The second reading tells us that it will not be an easy job. However, we should be happy that we are sharing in Christ’s sufferings and mission. We shall be insulted, ridiculed, misunderstood and hated by others because we are Christians. These shouldn’t discourage us from doing what is right for sake of Christ and his kingdom. We should never allow sufferings, insults or hatred to make us shy away from the truth. We didn’t become Christians because we wanted the comforts and convenience of this life, but because we believe in the truth of Jesus and his church.
In spite of the ridicules, misunderstandings and insults, God is still present in the church, and is still using her to perform wonders in the world. Jesus entrusted his disciples with the mission entrusted to him by the father. Despite their weaknesses, Jesus still entrusted them with this great task and sacred duties of shepherding his flock. Our consolation is in the words of Jesus: ‘’I will be with you all the times and no gates of the underworld shall subdue my church.’’ God is still willing to use weak humans being like me and you to do his work in the world. All we need do is to give ourselves willingly and he will make good use of us to make disciples of all nations for his greater glory.
The apostles and most of the Jews were expecting a triumphant Messiah. They were disappointed when Christ said he was going to suffer and die. Many Christians also think that by becoming Christians no more sufferings or challenges in their lives. That is not true. There are still sinners, challenges and misunderstandings in the church. The church is not perfect; however, she is constantly working towards perfection. Only God is perfect. We should all join in the struggle towards perfection by participating in the saving mission of the Church. God is calling you today to come and be entrusted with a responsibility in his church; a responsibility to spread the news to the world. Don’t run away and don’t delay, he wants you to suffer with him and bring his salvation to others.