|2/16/2017 9:00:00 AM|
WORD OF FAITH
How perfect can we be?
BY REV. JOHN P. CUSHFROM A READING FOR FEB. 19, SEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin....You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself...' -- Leviticus 19:17-18
On Sunday, we read from the Old Testament book of Leviticus (Lv 19:1-2,17-18), which is the third book of the Bible.
This book continues the story of Moses and the Israelites and, in a particular way, emphasizes ritualistic and legalistic practices of the Chosen People. It sets the standard for the moral life of Israel.
Some biblical scholars call the section that we read from this Sunday the "holiness code." The Lord is speaking to Moses on not only how to be holy, but why: "Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy."
God formed humankind in His own image and likeness, and despite the fall by our first parents, Adam and Eve, in original sin, they are called to be holy, just like God.
A lot to ask
How are they to be holy, then? In Leviticus 19:18, the Lord declares: "Love your neighbor as you love yourself."
Imagine the radical nature of this command. Imagine loving your neighbor with whom you have been wandering around in the desert for 40 years. This is a tall order!
Sunday's Gospel (Mt 5:38-48) comes from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. St. Matthew's Gospel was primarily written for converted Jews of Jesus' day, who would have been very familiar with the Old Testament. Just as Moses was the lawgiver of the Old Testament, Jesus is the lawgiver in the New Testament.
The amazing thing is that Jesus is not just the lawgiver; He is the law.
Jesus raises the "holiness code" of the Old Testament to a higher standard of perfection that is made possible only through Him. It is Jesus' relationship to the Father that He shares with us as his brothers and sisters that is the model and example. It is the Father "who makes His sun shine on the good and the bad" alike.
Jesus reminds us that we can't be selective in our love of neighbor. We can't simply expect a "what's in it for me" relationship: "If you love only those who love you, what recompense will you have?"
Good and bad
It is the Father's immense, intense, generous love, a love that "shines on the good and the bad," that we are to imitate. Jesus reminds His listeners that all are "children of your heavenly Father."
This is a tough command, but Jesus, in the last verse of Sunday's Gospel, takes it even farther: "You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."
If we read these New Testament words in Greek, we learn that the first "perfect" in the sentence is actually in the present middle tense, which indicates a verb of continual action.
The second "perfect" is in the present tense: The second "perfect" is God.
The first "perfect" is us: We're not perfect, but if we follow the example laid out by Jesus and live as sons and daughters of God the Father, then we can grow in holiness.
Today, pray that, by imitating the love of the Father and loving everyone -- the good and the bad -- we can become more like the perfect heavenly Father, aiming for our true home, heaven.
(Other readings for this Sunday include 1 Cor 3:16-23.)
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