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
GOD DOES NOT LOVE SIN BUT LOVES THE SINNER AWAY
In today’s readings we see God demonstrating his love for his people in spite of their unfaithfulness. For instance, in the first reading he assured the people of Israel of his love and protection. And in the gospel we see a much more dramatic demonstration of unconditional forgiveness and love through the father to the son who had offended him.
The son collected his own share of inheritance, wealth and left to a distance land and squandered everything in the life sin. When he had finished everything that he had, he became so hungry that he went to work in a swine (pig) farm and wanted to feed himself from the swine’s food. What a disgrace, that the son of a very wealthy father descending so low to the point of wanting to eat with animals. He who exalts himself will be humbled while he who humbles himself will be exalted says Jesus. And of all animals it was swine’s food he wanted to eat. Remember that swine is one of those animal God forbid his people to eat in the Old Testament.
That is what happens if you throw away your dignity and waste your resources in the life of sin. Most times when you did not work hard for and you achieve something on a platter of gold, you tend to be careless and wasteful. That is the situation of this prodigal son.
This son took advantage of his father’s generosity, had no foresight, he was after worldly pleasure and happiness, he was not responsible, and did not want to carry his cross. He just wanted to enjoy life but he ended up suffering instead. That is why Christ said that anyone who wants to enjoy this worldly life to the detriment his soul will lose it, but anyone who suffers and loses his this earthly life for his sake will gain eternal reward.
After suffering and wasting his wealth and life, he came back to his senses and thought of how his father’s servants have more than enough to eat while he is dying of hunger. That is what happens when we are suffering we remember all the good things and opportunities that we have wasted. The good thing is that he admitted his fault, judge, and even condemned himself by saying that he had sinned against God and his father and no longer worthy of being his father’s son. And he wished his father could accept him as one his servants.
He was bold enough and decided to return to the father and apologize to him and with the hope of being accepted as one of the servants. But to his amazement, while he was still far away, his father caught sight of him coming and he ran to him in order to welcome him back home. And his father decided to celebrate his return home in a very special way that made the first son angry. Instead of him being punished for his wrong deed he was celebrated for coming back home. What a kind and merciful father! He was given new clothes (sign of renewal and new beginning in their relationship), shoes (sign of being a legitimate son and not a slave as he wanted), and a ring (sign and seal of their covenant relationship as father and son). And on top of that the calf they have been fattening for years was slaughtered for the celebration. All these was to demonstrate the father’s unconditional love and forgiveness to his son that was lost but is now found, who died and is now back to life.
That is how God is to us, he loves us in spite of our unfaithfulness and is ready to forgive and celebrate our repentance from our sins without any condition attach. When we repent of our sins, we are made clean and new creation by God himself. We regain our lost glory and dignity. Therefore, do not be afraid of coming back to God and his church because he is full of mercy and compassion. Just as the prodigal son was celebrated for returning home that is how the angels, saints, and God in heaven celebrate our repentance.
Many of us are like the prodigal son. We have gone far away from God because of our sins. We have squandered our blessings and destroyed our dignity as children of God. In our effort to seek worldly pleasure and happiness we have brought upon ourselves misery, depression, loneliness, addictions of all kinds, lack of love and peace, and all kinds of evil into our lives. We need to learn from the prodigal son and come back to the father to receive forgiveness and love. We need to reconcile with our families, friends, neighbors, church, and God.
This year and the period of lent are moments in which we are called to come back to Lord and receive his forgiveness and love. Please take advantage of these beautiful opportunities. And as you receive unconditional forgiveness from the Lord, please endeavor to forgive those who wrong us as well. Our forgiveness will not be completed if we do not forgive others who have offended us. Remember what we say always in the prayer Jesus taught us “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’’ Please do not be like the elder son who was angry that the younger son was forgiven and celebrated for coming back home. We must be like the father who forgives without any condition attached.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR C