Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: Lv 19:1-2,17-18; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48
No revenge, no resistance and loving the enemy is the way to being the best version of yourself. These phrases help to focus on the central message of this Sunday. The readings offer us a most challenging message - to do the impossible: turning the other cheek; loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. In other words we are called to use the secret weapon of kindness to disarm and transform the enemy. In the first reading, the Lord asks Moses to tell the people: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” The instruction then goes on to tell the people some practical ways of being holy: avoiding hatred and taking no revenge. All that is summed up in the Levitical Law as, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is not just a law but a relationship that is grounded on God’s love for all without exception. Paul in the second reading gives us the reason: the sacredness of every person. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God which you are, is holy.” That biblical fidelity of just relationship to others is rooted in our love of God and the sacredness of the other as a temple of God. It leads us to imitate our God; to be holy, just as our God is holy; to be “kind and merciful” just as “The Lord is kind and merciful.”
In the Gospel, Jesus, continues his teaching on forgiveness, challenging us further to do the impossible by going beyond the law of love and revenge. He teaches that in addition to loving our neighbors, we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. As followers of Christ, we must never revenge. Instead, Jesus tells us, “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” What does Jesus intend in using the image of turning the other cheek? At the time of Jesus in Palestine, the law forbad anyone in authority striking anybody with the back of the right hand, or with the left hand. Therefore, if you turned the other cheek, the enemy would first be surprised and stop to think! That technique of Jesus may called “disarming the enemy.” We can also call it “transformative behavior.” I once heard the story of a person who broke into a home on one winter night. The owner, a woman who lived alone, woke up on hearing some noise in the living room. On opening her bedroom door, she saw a man standing there and was so frightened. She stood at the door in panic, not knowing what to do next. The man had opened one of the back windows to get in. For a long time, the situation was tense as they remained in silence. Suddenly, she broke the silence and asked him, what time is it? He responded as he looked at his watch. Only then did the man say how sorry he was to have broken into her home. He was homeless and hungry. She then gave him some food and prepared the cough in the living room for him to sleep. With her kindness, she had disarmed the man. The example of turning the other cheek may seem to the world as weakness or even as taking a risk, but that is what gives us a unique identity when we react to the enemy in a non-violent way rather than violently. That is what is unusual and different from the pagans. Our apparent weakness and cowardice lead to holiness. That is why Jesus concludes the passage with, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The message we take home this Sunday is threefold. 1) Jesus teaches us that when our brothers and sisters wrong us or cheat us, we are to be faithful, kind and merciful. 2) Jesus teaches us to be a transforming presence in a violent situation by disarming the enemy. 3) We are challenged to look at the person person who hurts us in the eye-ball and tell them the truth in a non-threatening way. It is in doing the impossible that we take a path to being the best version of ourselves; being holy and perfect.
©2014 John S. Mbinda