Feb 19 2023 Reflection
Sunday 19 February 2023
First Reading: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18
The Lord is kind and merciful.
Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
Second Reading: 1 Cor 3:16-23
Gospel Reading: Mt 5:38-48
Today’s Note: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand over your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
If someone insults you or tries to take advantage of you, how do you respond? Do you repay in kind? Jesus approached the question of just retribution with a surprising revelation of God’s intention for how we should treat others, especially those who mistreat us. When Jesus spoke about God’s law, he did something no one had done before. He gave a new standard based not just on the requirements of justice – giving each their due – but based on the law of grace, love, and freedom.
Law of grace and love
Jesus knew the moral law and its intention better than any jurist or legal expert could imagine. He quoted from the oldest recorded law in the world: If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe(Exodus 21:23-25). Such a law today seems cruel, but it was meant to limit vengeance as a first step towards mercy. This law was not normally taken literally but served as a guide for a judge in a law court for assessing punishment and penalty (see Deuteronomy 19:18).
The Old Testament is full of references to the command that we must be merciful: You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:18). If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink (Proverbs 25:21). Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done” (Proverbs 24:29). Let him give his cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults (Lamentations 3:30).
Jesus does something quite remarkable and unheard of. He transforms the law of mercy with grace, forbearance, and loving-kindness. Jesus also makes clear that there is no room for retaliation. We must not only avoid returning evil for evil, but we must seek the good of those who wish us ill. Do you accept insults, as Jesus did, with no resentment or malice? When you are compelled by others to do more than you think you deserve, do you insist on your rights, or do you respond with grace and cheerfulness?
Grace of the Holy Spirit
What makes a disciple of Jesus Christ different from everyone else? What makes Christianity distinct from any other religion? It is grace – treating others, not as they deserve, but as God wishes them to be treated – with loving-kindness and mercy. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can free us from the tyranny of malice, hatred, revenge, and resentment and gives us the courage to return evil with good. Such love and grace has power to heal and to save from destruction. The Lord Jesus suffered insult, abuse, injustice, and death on a cross for our sake. Scripture tells us that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin and guilt (Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7, I John 1:7, Revelation 1:5). Since God has been merciful towards us through the offering of his Son, Jesus Christ, we in turn are called to be merciful towards our neighbor, even those who cause us grief and harm.
How can we possibly love those who cause us harm or ill-will? With God all things are possible. He gives power and grace to those who believe and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit. His love conquers all, even our hurts, fears, prejudices and griefs. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can free us from the tyranny of malice, hatred, revenge, and resentment and gives us the courage to return evil with good. Such love and grace has power to heal and to save from destruction. Do you know the power and freedom of Christ’s redeeming love and mercy?
Perfect – made whole
Was Jesus exaggerating when he said we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48)? Jesus’ command seems to parallel two passages from the Old Testament Scriptures. The first is where God instructed Abraham to “be perfect/blameless” before God (Genesis 17:1). The original meaning of “perfect” in Hebrew and the Aramaic dialect which Jesus spoke is “completeness” or”wholeness” – “not lacking in what is essential.”
The second passage that seems to parallel Jesus’ expression – “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”- is the command that God gave to Moses and the people of Israel to “be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44,45; 19:2). God created each one of us in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26,27). That is why he calls us to grow in maturity and wholeness so we can truly be like him – a people who loves as he loves and who chooses to do what is good and to reject what is evil (Ephesians 4:13-16).
Freedom and power to love as God loves
God knows our sinfulness and weaknesses better than we do – and he assures us of his love, mercy, and help. That is why he freely gives us his power, strength, and gifts so that we may not lack anything we need to do his will and to live as his sons and daughters (2 Peter 1:3). Do you want to grow in your love for God and for your neighbor? Ask the Holy Spirit to purify and transform you in the image of the Father that you may know and live in the joy and freedom of the Gospel.
Lord Jesus, your love brings freedom and pardon. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and set my heart ablaze with your love that nothing may make me lose my temper, ruffle my peace, take away my joy, nor make me bitter towards anyone.