(Lev 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48)
BE HOLY AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS HOLY
As we gave been sharing about Matthew always putting Jesus in the footsteps of Moses, today we see the opening words in the first reading and closing words of Jesus having the same meaning, that is, “holiness” and “perfectness.”
Lets put some sense in these words forming our own theme. You can agree with me that being in a state of holiness is easier than being in a state of perfectness. Holiness is achievable by constantly washing oneself off sins but perfection has no room for even committing sins.
The same way we can say it is easier to become a Christian than to be a Christian. To become a Christian you only need to confess your sins, accept Jesus and be baptised. As simple as such. But to be a Christian is not easy because is a way of life.
There is this story of an eagle which was flying over the water hunting for fish. Once it descended on the water and had its catch. It flew with it but the fish was too heavy. Up there it became very tired but couldn’t let off the fish. It had to obey the law of gravity and within a few second it had come into contact with the earth and it lost its life and the fish was dead too.
Lettig go is something we hear quite often in phycology. Jesus is giving a hard teaching to his disciples. How can Jesus be unfair to the children at Syria who have seen their both or one parent being killed, how can they forgive the killers or turn the other chick to them?
But that is the lettting go we are called to let go the pain, the anger, the bitterness, the egoism and such. We have to sacrifice something else we will lose both ourselves and the enemy. Arnold Swesnegger says in one of the film, “When going to war, first prepare two graves, one for your enemy and one for yourself.” One having grudges against his brother has no difference from him if he committed something wrong. Both the offender and one carrying grudge will meet the judge in heaven. We will lose ourselves like the eagle and the fish. When carrying grudges is like carrying skeleton of in your heart.
Paul is reminding us that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. All bad things have no place in our heart, the temple. Let’s reflect on some points:
a. The Jesuit writer John Powell tells of a man who used to buy his newspaper from a man who always treated him rudely. One day a friend saw this and asked the man why he put up with such behaviour. The man replied, “Why should two of us be rude? Why should I allow another person to manipulate my feelings?”
b. In the film “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Gregory Peck plays the part of a white lawyer defending a black man accused (wrongly, as it turns out) of rape. One day one of the white townspeople comes up to Peck and spits in his face to express his disgust at a white man defending a “nigger” who raped a white woman. Peck stands there dignified and silent and slowly wipes the spit from his cheek. He says nothing; he does nothing. But it is clear which of the two men has lost his dignity. (And, of course, it turns out that it was a white man who raped the girl.)
c. A young lady sat in a bus. At the next stop a loud and grumpy old lady came and sat by her. She squeezed into the seat and bumped her with her numerous bags.
The person sitting on the other side of the young lady got upset, asked her why she did not speak up and say something.
The young lady responded with a smile: “It is not necessary to be rude or argue over something so insignificant, the journey together is so short. I get off at the next stop.”
d. Jesus before his accusers. During his trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus was struck on the cheek and accused of insolence. How did he respond? Did he turn the other cheek? Not exactly. Did he hit back? No. He simply said, “If I have done any wrong, tell me what it is. If not, why do you strike me?” There is no anger, no vindictiveness, no abuse. He simply speaks to his accusers in quiet, reasonable terms in a totally non-violent way. He retains his dignity while they lose theirs in violence and abuse. He does not cringe before them; in fact, he stands up to them.
From the last example of Jesus, it doesn’t mean that when we are hurt we don’t ask. Some people hurt others without knowing. We should open their eyes but not to retaliate. Thus, turning the other cheek is not weakness; it requires tremendous inner strength and security. We do not see much of that kind of strength from the macho characters on our TV screens. There the slightest offence is to be replied to in a hail of bullets and bombs. But, as we know from the various flashpoints around the world, it is bound to fail. It has failed in Northern Ireland; it is failing in Israel; it has failed between India and Pakistan. And there are countless other examples.
Dealing with enemies: But Jesus is not finished yet. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the pagans do the same?”
Is Jesus out of his mind? Does he really expect genuine, red-blooded human beings to react this way to hostility and violence? How can we possibly love people who do us harm, whom we know to be evil, wicked and corrupt? Are we really to love the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, to love the terrorist, the sexual abuser…?
Problem of love
The problem here is the word ‘love’. Generally speaking, to say we love a person is to have warm feelings of affection towards them or even to be in love with them. Is Jesus asking me to have the same feelings for my life companion as for some terrible human monster? The answer is unequivocally, NO!
‘To love’ in the Gospel context here means to ‘wish the wellbeing of’. It is a unilateral, unconditional desire for the deepest wellbeing of another person. It does not ask me ‘to be in love with’, to have warm feelings for someone who is doing me and others serious harm. That would be ridiculous. But we can sincerely wish the wellbeing of those who harm or persecute us. We pray that they may change, not just for our sake but also for their own. We pray that from hating, hurting people they become loving and caring people.
Our enemies, Far from being unreasonable to pray for such people, there are no people who need our prayers more. On the other hand, to hate them in return is simply to make ourselves just the way they are, to reduce ourselves to their level. And we see what happens in our world when hate and violence are returned by hate and violence.
Let’s pray for those who are suffering out of violence. May our Mother Mary of Fatima and a queen of peace.
St. Theresa of Lisieux, pray for us.