1st Reading – Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18
Leviticus 19 is a miscellaneous collection of laws; some think it might be a more primitive form of the 10 Commandments. The distinctiveness, the separateness of God from the world now calls his people to also be like this. We need to show this by our behavior. This behavior is summed up in the command to love the neighbor. In the OT this neighbor meant a fellow Israelite. Jesus will widen this concept to include even the enemy. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture In Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu/7OrdA022011/theword_indepth.html )
The word holy means ‘set apart’. What does that mean to you? Holiness is a gift that is maximized when we choose good over evil in the various circumstances of our daily lives. Grace, accepted and celebrated in a life of prayer, gives us the strength to be holy. It’s hard to think about ourselves as holy. We often don’t feel worthy to be called that. How different would be world be if we considered ourselves sacred, by the grace of God?
Richard Rohr in The Divine Dance says, “…it is a risky position to live undefended, in a kind of constant openness to the other – because it would mean others could sometimes actually wound (from vulnus, “wound”…think vulnerability). But only if we choose to take this risk do we also allow the exact opposite possibility: the other might also gift you, free you, and even love you. But it is a felt risk every time. Every time,” (p. 57).
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 3: 16-23
Paul tells us that we are the temple of God and God’s Spirit dwells in us; translated that means that God built the human heart ‘with a hole in it.’ We have a built-in openness for others, if we don’t block it with selfishness. We are to let God’s own self in – to let God stretch our stunted outreach to others so that we will truly give out of love. Love wants what is truly best for the other – as God wants what is best for us. Real love is what we are to offer; real love wants what is healthy, good, life-giving for the other. (Fr. John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu/7OrdA022011/reflections_foley.html )
Pope Francis said, “When the church becomes closed in on itself, it gets sick. Think of a closed room – a room locked for a year. When you go in, there is a smell of dampness…The church must go out from herself. Where? Towards the existential outskirts. I prefer a thousand times a church damaged by an accident than a sick church closed in on itself.” How do we do in this as temples of God?
“First, wherever Spirit succeeds in opening human hearts to the divine, it brings about some kind of personal encounter with the personal God and not just a hazy religious consciousness. Second, at the horizontal level, the Holy Spirit works against alienation, injustice, and violence to spread solidarity, justice, and peace,” (Gerald O’Collins, The Tripersonal God, p. 169). In other words, forming a personal relationship with God allows God to dwell in you. It cannot be contained.
The Gospel – Matthew 5: 38-48
Thoughts from William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 166-175:
The ‘law of tit for tat’ was in fact the beginning of mercy, a limitation of vengeance. It was meant to stop blood feuds. It was also never a law for an individual to extract vengeance. It was how a judge in a law court must assess punishment and penalty. Even further, this law was never, at least in any even semi-civilized society, carried out literally. Very soon the injury done was assessed at a money value; the value was assigned according to the injury, the pain, the healing needed, the loss of time to work, the indignity. Also, the OT has other sayings concerning enemies that go far more along with Jesus’ ideas: “Do not say, I will do to him as he has done to me.” (Proverbs 24: 29) Yet, Jesus does go further. He actually does away with the very principle of that law; retaliation has no place in the Christian life.
Jesus never asked us to love our enemies in the same way we love our nearest and dearest. The word that is used for love is agape (invincible goodwill) not phila (deep friendship) or storge (family love) or eros (sexual love). With our enemies love is not so much a feeling of the heart as it is a decision of the will. We are called to will ourselves into doing this with God’s grace. It is in fact a victory over that which comes instinctively to the natural person. We are called to have unconquerable goodwill even toward those who hurt us. It is the power to love those whom we do not like and who may not like us. In fact, we can only have this kind of love, agape, when Jesus enables us to conquer our natural tendencies to bitterness and brooding. It does NOT, however, mean that we allow people to do absolutely as they like. No one would say a parent really loves a child if the parent lets the child do anything he likes despite the dangers. If we regard a person with invincible goodwill, it will often mean that discipline, even punishment, might be in order so that the person will learn what is best for themselves and others. The discipline would never be retributive – it must always be aimed at a cure – at recovery – at remedial care. Lastly, Jesus says that we must pray for those who hurt us. We must take ourselves and those who hurt us to God. The surest way of killing bitterness is to pray for the man we are tempted to hate.
Agape is love which is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself. The apostle John affirms this in 1 John 4:8: “God is love.” God does not merely love; God is love itself. Everything God does flows from God’s love. But it is important to remember that God’s love is not a sappy, sentimental love such as we often hear portrayed. God loves because that is God’s nature and the expression of God’s being. God loves the unlovable and the unlovely (us!), not because we deserve to be loved, but because it is God’s nature to love us, and God must be true to God’s nature and character. God’s love is displayed most clearly at the cross, where Christ died for the unworthy creatures who were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), not because we did anything to deserve it, “but God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The object of God’s agape love never does anything to merit God’s love. We are the undeserving recipients upon whom God lavishes that love. God’s love was demonstrated when God sent God’s Son into the world to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10) and to provide eternal life to those God sought and saved. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for those He loves. (Sweet to the Soul on Facebook) This is our example!
From the On Being Blog, columnist Courtney Martin:
But real love is radical because it cannot be earned or unearned. It is tied to inherent dignity. It is unconquerable because it is dumb in its own way — determined to keep loving no matter what the counter forces, no matter what scarcity small men try to message, no matter what fear they try to sow. It’s blindly trusting, also positioned as stupid in our overly strategic society. It’s inefficient, a sin in our efficiency-obsessed time.
It is perhaps most clearly understood as maternal. Just as mothers have, from time immemorial, loved without condition, we must now love this nation like mothers. We must parent it into a new maturity. We must not give up on it, no matter what. We must be prepared to be surprised at how beautiful it will be. We must do all this without knowing what form it will take, but knowing that whatever it becomes will be rewarding if it is shaped by fierce, unending, active love.