The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – 23 February 2020
Lectionary Readings: Lev 19:1-2, 17-18; Ps 103:1-4, 9-10, 12-13; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Matt 5:38-48
Theme: You Shall Be Holy

The biblical passages designated for this liturgy function like instruments in a magnificent symphony, offering us a beautiful image and understanding of the meaning of discipleship. One senses a growing intensity and integration in the cumulative sequence from Leviticus through Corinthians and into Matthew, with the Psalm and the gospel acclamation sustaining the theme of the mercy and graciousness of God, making all of this possible

The tone is set in Leviticus by the solemn proclamation of God to Moses, “I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” The immediate sequel to that is: “You shall be holy.” There is no room for doubt; the source of the holiness to which we are called is the very holiness of God. Paul affirms this in phrases like “You are God’s temple … God’s temple is holy … God’s Spirit dwells in you” (1 Cor 3:16-17), “you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God” (v. 23).

Here the holiness of the disciple finds expression primarily in interpersonal relations, in the commitment to love, by living the very demanding norm, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). This includes reproving your neighbor when necessary, out of concern for him/her, but never taking vengeance or bearing a grudge. In Matthew, Jesus ventures further, citing two troublesome attitudes and then refuting them with proactive, highly engaged alternatives (Shea, 83-85). To “an-eye-for-an-eye and a-tooth-for-a-tooth,” Jesus proposes changing the balance of power from violence to non-violence by simply turning the other cheek, giving your cloak as well, or going the second mile. Advancing one step further, Shea concludes that in encouraging the disciples to “give to those who beg from you” and “not refuse to lend to those who ask to borrow from you,” Jesus is acknowledging mutual need as the foundation of community living.

The second norm to be refuted is “love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Shea points out that Jesus’ response (“but I say to you, ‘love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you’”) charts a movement from selective love to universal love in imitation of the heavenly Father, whose sun rises on the evil and the good, and whose rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. This is the perfection of the Father and the holiness to which we are called.

The way of the “tax collectors” and the “Gentiles” will never be adequate for the disciple, and Paul dismisses it with “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor 3:10), reminding us of our call to holiness because we “belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God” (v. 23).

For Reflection and Discussion: [1] In your society today, what might be a major challenge to the norm, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” and how do you respond to that challenge? [2] What other expressions of holiness would you want to include in this reflection?

Bibliography: Brown, R. An Introduction to the New Testament (New York, 1997); Brown, R. et al. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (New Jersey: 1990); Shea, J. Matthew Year A: On Earth as It Is in Heaven (Collegeville: 2004)

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