Reading I: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
Reading II: 1 Cor 3:16-23
Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48
An unusual thing happened recently at a family gathering, unusual at least for our family. Another family member and I found ourselves on opposite sides of what became an argument around politics. Without getting into unnecessary details here, our argument reflected much of what seems to be some of the political divisions we are experiencing as a country. I found myself in unchartered territory. For one, anytime a conversation around politics has arisen in previous family gatherings, we all seemed to have similar views, but not this time. Though I am happy to say we remained civil, what surprised me the most was how quickly we each drew a line that neither one of us was willing to cross. We each became the “other” to one another. Today, we seem to live in a world where it is so much easier to accentuate our differences than our commonalities. We encounter “the other,” and then we size them up to see how well they might fit-in, or not, with “our own.” If one is not careful, hatred for the other can set in. The readings for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time challenge this way of thinking and acting.
In the Book of Leviticus, God says to Moses to tell the Israelite community to “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy” (Lv 19:12 ). Furthermore, God tells them not to bear hatred towards each other. The holiness of God calls for a recognition of the “other” and, even more, it calls for love of that person. Even when fraternal correction is called for, this must be done without incurring sin (v17b). While God is the source of unity, God is also the source of our diversity. So, it ought not be said that God wants us to conform to a same way of thinking. What does seem to be God’s desire for us is that we apply self-love when dealing with the one who is the “other.”
St. Paul’s letter to the community at Corinth speaks to situations of differences and discord. In this Sunday’s excerpt, St. Paul reminds the Corinthians, and all of us, that the community is the temple of God where the Spirit resides and, as such, where the foolishness of the wisdom of this world ought to be avoided in favor of God’s wisdom. For Paul, if we are to be holy, then the body to which we belong must remain holy, especially as we consider the wisdom that guides our communal relationships. It seems that some of the foolish wisdom of our world is that arguments ought to be won at all costs, regardless of truth. What might even start as fraternal correction can become a quest for winning. We easily loose sight of what is right, and winning becomes our greatest attainment.
Finally, in this Sunday’s gospel, we hear Jesus say: “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.” Here, Jesus is also pointing out how foolish the wisdom of our world can be. A well-known 20th century quote attributed to a number of non-violent movement leaders captures this foolishness as follows: “If we do an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we will be a blind and toothless world.” Differences and arguments can arise in a community and these differences can lead to violent behavior. Jesus’ teaching says that retaliation is not the response of one called to holiness, even when the “other” becomes an enemy. Our way of life is to be a mirror of God’s perfection, and God’s perfection is manifested in God’s love which disengages hate and conquers the opposition.
On the occasion of Oscar Romero’s beatification in 2015, Pope Francis praised Romero as one who “built peace with the power of love.” Romero called his flock to avoid retaliation, and yet he taught the resistance of love. In his famous last Sunday homily, in which he called the members of the armed forces to disobey any order that would have them kill their brothers and sisters, Romero was not only concerned for the lives lost but also for the souls of those who did the killing that would also be lost. In the midst of all of the violence around him, Romero never lost sight and love for those responsible for the violence as well. Francis continued, “[Romero] became an image of Christ the Good Shepherd reminding us that the Church, a gathering of brothers [and sisters] around their Lord, is the family of God in which there can be no division.” Francis concluded by stating that “faith in Jesus Christ generates communities who are builders of peace and solidarity.”
The next time a difference of opinions ensues in our home, our place of work, or a political rally, may we adhere to God’s wisdom which evokes unlimited forgiveness and boundless charity in the face of opposition.