Sunday, February 23, 2020

7th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

RADIO MASS   FEB. 23, 2020

IN THIS MORNING’S SECOND READING, PAUL PAINSTAKINGLY QUESTIONS THE DEEPLY DIVIDED CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY IN THE PORT CITY OF CORINTH ON THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA WITH THESE WORDS: “DO YOU NOT KNOW THAT ALL OF YOU TOGETHER ARE THE TEMPLE OF GOD? DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THAT THE SPIRIT OF GOD DWELLS IN ALL OF YOU WHO ARE CHRIST’S ONE  COMMUNITY?”  THEN, POINTEDLY, HE DECLARES TO THE WHOLE ASSEMBLY OF CORINTHIAN CHRISTIANS: “THE TEMPLE OF GOD WHICH TOGETHER YOU ALL ARE, IS HOLY.” CLEARLY, PAUL INFERS THAT THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY IS HOLY JUST AS GOD IS HOLY.

STEEPED IN HIS OWN JEWISH TRADITION, PAUL UNDERSTOOD, FROM THE TORAH, AS EXEMPLIFIED IN TODAY’S PASSAGE FROM THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS, THAT THE PRIMORDIAL MESSAGE WHICH THE LORD HAD SPOKEN TO THE WHOLE ISRAELITE COMMUNITY THROUGH MOSES APPLIED ALSO TO THE CORINTHIANS: “BE HOLY, FOR I, THE LORD YOUR GOD, AM HOLY.”

SPECIFICALLY, WHAT DID HOLINESS MEAN FOR MOSES AND HIS HEBREW PEOPLE? WHAT DID HOLINESS MEAN ALSO FOR PAUL AND HIS CHRISTIAN CONVERTS AT CORINTH? MOSES SPELLS OUT IN CONCRETE TERMS WHAT HOLINESS MEANT. “YOU SHALL NOT BEAR HATRED IN YOUR HEART FOR YOUR BROTHER OR SISTER; TAKE NO REVENGE AND CHERISH NO GRUDGE AGAINST ANY OF YOUR PEOPLE.” IN A WORD, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

IN THE SPIRIT OF LEVITICUS, PAUL DEFINES HOLINESS FOR THE CORINTHIAN CHRISTIANS BY REMINDING THEM NOT TO BE FILLED WITH THE ARROGANCE AND VANITY OF THOSE WHO CONSIDER THEMSELVES WISE AS WORLDLY PEOPLE DO WHO BOAST OF BELONGING TO THIS FACTION OR THAT FACTION, THIS LEADER OR THAT LEADER THUS CAUSING HOSTILITY AND FRAGMENTATION WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY. PAUL ANNOUNCES: “FOR ALL OF YOU BELONG TOGETHER AS ONE IN ONE SINGLE COMMUNITY. AND YOU ALL BELONG TO CHRIST, AND CHRIST BELONGS TO GOD. PAUL’S PLAINTIFF CRY IS THAT ALL CHRISTIANS MUST LIVE TOGETHER AS ONE IN CHRIST WHO IS ONE IN GOD THE FATHER. THEREFORE, HE EXHORTS THEM TO REMEMBER: YOU ARE THE ONE TEMPLE OF GOD AND THAT  TEMPLE IS HOLY, SACRED AND UNITED AS ONE WITHOUT ANY FACTIONS.

IN THE GOSPEL, JESUS CAPTURES THE SAME MESSAGE IN THE CLOSING VERSE WHEN HE DECLARES TO ALL HIS LISTENERS AND ALSO TO US: “SO, BE PERFECT, JUST AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS PERFECT.” AND WHAT IS PERFECTION?

GOD’S PERFECTION MEANS THAT GOD IS THE HOLY ONE IN WHOM THERE ARE NO DIVISIONS OR FACTIONS. GOD IS THE HOLY ONE WHO BEARS NO HATRED IN HIS HEART TOWARD ANOTHER. GOD IS THE HOLY ONE WHO TAKES NO REVENGE, CHERISHES NO GRUDGES BUT LOVES ALL PEOPLE WITH THE SAME LOVE WITH WHICH GOD LOVES HIMSELF.

THAT HOLINESS, THAT PERFECTION IS CAPTURED IN TODAY’S SERMON ON THE MOUNT WHEN JESUS SAYS THERE IS NOT TO BE “AN EYE FOR AN EYE, NOR A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.” REVENGE, RETALIATION AND STRIKING BACK HAVE NO PLACE IN THE WHOLE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY. THEY ARE TO BE ESCHEWED AND RULED OUT. RATHER, AS ONE PEOPLE, CALLED TO THE HOLINESS AND PERFECTION OF GOD, WE ARE TO LOVE OUR ENEMIES AND PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE US. WE ARE TO GO THE EXTRA MILE AND GIVE TO THOSE WHO ASK SOMETHING OF US. THESE ACTIONS, THIS WAY OF LIFE, REVEALS AND CELEBRATES GOD’S HOLINESS DWELLING IN US. THEY REFLECT GOD’S PERFECTION TO A WORLD THAT DOES NOT KNOW GOD.

MY FELLOW CHRISTIANS, IN AN INSTRUCTIVE AND COMPELLING WAY, WE NEED TO RECALL THAT IT IS THIS VERY WAY OF HOLINESS AND PERFECTION AS TAUGHT BY JESUS THAT INSPIRED MAHATMA GANDHI TO DEDICATE HIS LIFE TO NON-VIOLENCE. HIS COMMITMENT TO LOVING HIS ENEMIES AND PERSECUTORS EVENTUALLY LED TO INDIA’S LIBERATION IN 1948 FROM BRITAIN’S NEARLY CENTURY-LONG OPPRESSIVE RULE. EVEN MORE IMPORTANTLY FOR US AMERICANS, IT WAS THESE SAME TEACHINGS OF JESUS ABOUT LOVE AND NON-VIOLENCE THAT SHAPED THE LIFE AND WORK OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. HE SUMMONED OUR NATION TO REJECT 350 YEARS OF BRUTAL RACISM AND TO PURSUE A DREAM WHERE BLACK AND WHITE WOULD LIVE NO LONGER AS SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL BUT TOGETHER AS ONE PEOPLE IN THE LIGHT OF GOD’S HOLINESS AND GOD’S PERFECTION. IT IS THAT DREAM, ROOTED AND GROUNDED IN THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS, PAUL AND LEVITICUS THAT WE AS A PEOPLE, A NATION AND A CHRISTIAN CHURCH HAVE YET TO REALIZE AND FULFILL. WE KNOW WE ARE CALLED TO DO

  1. SURELY, BY GOD’S HOLINESS AND PERFECTION DWELLING IN US, WE ARE COMMITTED TO FULFILL THAT DREAM.
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