23 February 2020
Lev 19: 1-2, 17-18
1 Cor 3: 16-23
Matthew 5: 38–48
Be holy, be perfect – that is the resounding call from the Liturgy of the Word today. It is the call of the Christian vocation.
It is the clear challenge set out for us in the readings today. From the injunction in Leviticus, Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy to the words in the Gospel, Be perfect, as your heavenly Father in perfect, we are reminded of how a Christian must act. Last week we were given some prompts as to how radical the call to be a Christian is. Today, Jesus spells it out clearly: I have to do as God does.
The first injunction is addressed by Yahweh to all the People of Israel; the second is that addressed by Jesus to his followers in Israel but, by extension, to us who are his followers today. No one is excluded from this call, poor and rich, old and young, leaders and followers…
To be holy is to be perfect and to be perfect is to be holy. It’s doubtful that any one will reach perfection this side of the grave but, as St Paul tells us in one of his Letters, we have to be in the race, facing towards the finishing line. And that is our vocation. Even though we’ll not reach perfect love we must keep striving to do so. It is not an optional extra! Some saint once wrote: ‘Jesus did not say “succeed” but “strive”.’
And the way we can achieve holiness is by living a life of love. And even if there are times when we fall down in our loving of others we can, like Jesus on the road to Calvary, get back up and continue the climb to perfection and holiness.
In the context of today’s Gospel, we must not return evil for evil, no matter how justified it may seem – on a human level. But Christians, though in the world are not of the world. We do not judge and act solely by secular, human principles. We must act to a higher standard, that of Christ.
God does not return evil for evil. He causes his sun to shine on the bad as well as the good.
But what if someone hates me? What am I to do? The Gospel is clear: you must love that person. No one can control how others see us or treat us. But we must ensure that how we look on others or how we act towards them are always in accord with God’s way. So we cannot exact vengeance as Jesus reminds us today.
It’s hard…. but it’s what we’re called to do. How we do this is something which needs a lot of thought. It also needs a lot of prayer as we ask God to guide us to say and to do what is right. Sometimes it may mean going to that person and trying to sort things out; other times it may mean leaving well enough alone. But, no matter what we do, we can never return evil for evil, bad words or actions for bad words and actions that have been done to us.
Christ’s call is the most radical: to be a Christian I must be rich in mercy, slow to anger and abounding in love.
May each of us be filled with God’s Holy Spirit so that we may imitate Him, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Amen.
Fr Martin Kavanagh SMA