Gospel Reflections

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Matthew 5:38-48

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Helen Bellew

Published: February 19, 2017

Sunrise and Rainfall

Today is the seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, a time with no special celebrations or universally notable Feasts, but rather a quiet time liturgically, an opportunity to give new attention to what it means to live the Christian life. At the same time, these are no ordinary times in our global reality! No matter where we live in the world, we are faced to some degree with societal divisions of all kinds, chaos and cruelty caused by governments and individuals, a “center” that has become unhinged, and individual faith that has been tested to its core.

Rooted in a fundamental belief that God is Good, and claiming strength and focus from the Christian virtue of Hope, we turn to the scriptures for inspiration and encouragement – or maybe not! The Gospel reading today from Matthew includes several jarring phrases: “An eye for an eye” and “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But this is one of the places in scripture where we must look for the deeper meaning and understand as well the culture of the times. As the consummate teacher, Jesus uses the knowledge, understanding and experience of His listeners as a beginning point for His instruction. The harsh expression “an eye for an eye” was not actually encouraging measured retaliation but rather meant to curb excesses in the ancient judicial system where unjust judges would impose sentences far beyond what was a just punishment for the crime. So in fact “an eye for an eye” was limiting the authorities in meting out excessive punishment. It was intended to provide some measure of justice.

Jesus, however, rejects this practice and introduces a new way for humans, His followers, to relate to one another. He rejects retaliation and encourages reaching out in non-violence. Rather than measuring and limiting our response to another’s need, He is telling us to be generous and “go the extra mile.” He further challenges our human tendencies to limit our outreach to our circle of friends, when He reminds us that the “sun rises and the rain falls” on everyone, those we deem good and those we judge as “bad.” In fact, it is up to God to make those determinations, a responsibility that is not ours! Furthermore, Jesus exhorts us to be holy, to be perfect,  to be merciful as our Heavenly Father is holy, perfect and merciful. As God is perfectly who God is, so we must strive to be perfectly who we are meant to be as human reflections of God and members of God’s “household” as St. Paul tells us.

We find further direction about how to become perfect, holy and merciful in the first reading of the day from Leviticus- “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart; take no revenge, cherish no grudge;” and the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he challenges the community to remember, to be aware, that in our humanity we are temples of God, bearers of God’s Spirit within us. In the last verse of the reading, St. Paul recites a litany of conviction that links us directly to God- “and all belong to you, and you to Christ and Christ to God.”

And so in the experience of sunrise and rainfall, we are gifted with God’s mercy and generosity equally and freely given to all of humanity. In this image we find the example that Jesus wishes us to follow. In the knowledge that we are temples of God and bearers of God’s Spirit within us, we find the source and the courage to resist retaliation and holding onto grudges, and the perseverance to embrace wholeheartedly the command to love our neighbor as ourselves. Finally, lest we become discouraged and fall short in our efforts, let us remember that this is the work of a lifetime!


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