7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Feb 23, 2020 | Gospel Reflections

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Matthew 5:38-48
Sunday Gospel Reflection
by Sister Helen Bellew

Be holy, be perfect – and how to get there!

One of Jesus’ titles is Teacher and He is an extraordinarily gifted one, often using situations, objects, and cultural norms with which His listeners are familiar to introduce a profound message. Today’s Gospel teaching is delivered in the context of snippets from Roman and Jewish law to which Jesus’ listeners were subject and thus would have grasped the connections more readily.  Interpreted for us today:  we are not to engage in plotting retaliation or seeking revenge.  Furthermore, we are to reach out to others who are not just beyond our circle of family and friends, but to those who are bad and unjust, for two essential elements of life – sun and rain – are freely and equally given to them by our Good God. It seems to me that this kind of holiness, this kind of perfection impels us to live and grow in the realization that as Paul tells us in the second reading “we are temples of God”, that God lives in us, and by the way, in each of us, including the person with whom we disagree, including the person who has insulted or criticized us, including those who differ in their political or religious beliefs, including the “bad” and the “unjust”.

Those of us who have heard the message “be holy”; those of us who know the Spirit of God dwells in us; who know that we “belong to Christ”; who know we are to be perfect; – we are obliged to respond to all upon whom the sun rises and upon all on whom the rain falls. In spite of hatred and persecution, we are to keep moving forward, offering our cloak, going the extra mile, reaching out a hand to one who wants to borrow.  In other words, we are commanded to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  We find further direction and insight in Psalm 103 beginning with the response: “The Lord is kind and merciful!” The verses continue with words like: pardon, heal, slow to anger, compassion, all describing God’s action toward those God has gifted with sun and rain. Too much to ask?  Given who we are and what we know- should we not do more than the tax collectors and those who do not believe?

How helpful that this Sunday’s readings immediately precede Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season in the liturgical year. During this penitential season leading up to the celebration of the great feast of the Resurrection, we are invited each year into a time of personal and communal reflection, change of heart, and conversion, to grow more deeply human by embracing the qualities that define us as “belonging to Christ”, as becoming perfect and holy. In the readings that have been selected for this Sunday, we find clear directives to illuminate our path that are both challenging and transformative.

We are the hands and heart of God’s desire for Unity and belonging of all “to Christ and Christ to God.” This progression of possession, this belonging of all “to Christ and Christ to God” is the route to our holiness and perfection!

Matthew 5:38-48

“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. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him our cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. Do not the pagans do the same?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The Gospel of the Lord