Tuesday, February 14, 2017

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

As Christians know we are “called to be holy.”  We hear this phrase often, and yet few Catholics can say where it came or can explain what it really means.  Our readings this week give us some answers…

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

Our first reading comes from the book of Leviticus… the second retelling of the Moses story only this time through prism of priestly (Levite) Law.  In this rather short passage, we are given two powerful commands.  First, God commands us to be holy.  But what does he mean?  While the intervening passages (verses 2-16) provide some clarity, the real understanding comes from the second commandment in the passage, “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Period.  Before we can even utter an inquisitive “why” God says, “I am the Lord.”  the scriptural equivalent of “because I said so” from a parent to a child.  But before we get too concerned over this command and our ability to follow it, our Psalm reminds us that “the Lord is kind and merciful.”  Our Lord is also one of compassion.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Christians know this as part of Jesus’ Great Commandment… the “Golden Rule.”  But as we’ve been hearing in recent weeks from the Gospel of Matthew, much of what Jesus is teaching isn’t new.  In fact, it’s quite ancient as we see by our passage from Leviticus.  This week is now different as our Gospel passage continues where we left off with the Sermon on the Mount.  Just as with last week’s passage, Jesus makes use of some common rhetorical oratory.  He starts with “you have heard it said…” and then tells us that we need to take it to the next level, to go beyond what we’ve been traditionally taught.  Don’t do the bare minimum, go beyond.  He teaches us to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  A tall order indeed, but remember our Psalm, “the Lord is kind and merciful.”  We need to at least try.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians.  Here Paul continues to address the problems that have developed around the different cults of personality (Paul, Apollos, Cephas).  Paul has been telling us that we should have only one focus, which is Christ.  Bringing his argument full circle, this week’s passage has Paul teaching us that we are temples of God… that God dwells within us all, and that is what makes us all holy.  Further, it is through that holiness that we belong to each other, who in turn belongs to Christ, who belongs to God.  It’s an endless loop of connection that goes beyond the wisdom of the any age. 

Final Thoughts:
What does it mean to be holy?  When I pose this question to most people, they tend to think of people like priests or nuns or saints.  They think of people living a sort of monastic existence dedicating their lives to God or prayer.  Still others think of people who devoutly follow some form of religious practice without deviation from established orthodoxy.  While these perceptions are not entirely wrong, they're not entirely right either. So what then is holiness?  Our Gospel this week told us... 

Jesus tells us that we must go beyond what we have been taught with regard to following the established Law. He uses concrete examples. He says, "you have heard it said, an eye for an eye..." and then tell us we must turn the other cheek. He says, "you have heard it said you must love your neighbors..." and then tells us we must love our enemies. For Jesus, being holy isn't just following the letter of the law, it's following the spirit of the law to extremes. Holiness isn't passive... it's active. Holiness isn't just finding a quiet place to pray every day, but putting those prayers into action... every day. A call to holiness isn't just practicing one's faith, it's living one's faith.

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