Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
First Reading: People often say that we are what we eat. It is, perhaps, just as true that we are (or aspire to be) what we worship. In Leviticus, the Lord tells Moses to call the entire people to imitate God’s own holiness.
Psalm 103: Psalm 103 fits wonderfully with today’s focus on holiness. As the first reading enjoined us to imitate God’s holiness, the psalm calls us to sing praise for God’s actions on our behalf.
Second Reading: Today’s second reading has Paul dealing with controversies that could break up the Christian community at Corinth. After he formed this community, Apollos, another evangelizer, preached a different message. Although Paul surely believed in the superiority of his own interpretation, he avoids debating the merits of the preaching of others, reminding the people that they belong not to him or any other preacher, but to Christ and God.
Gospel: This teaching from the Sermon on the Mount is not only difficult, but can also be very confusing to an ethical person. Citing the laws from Exodus, Jesus repeats the law and then delivers the incredible advice to “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” If he had not offered examples, his disciples (and us) would have had no warrant to work for justice or defend the oppressed.
Reflection: Living with a perfectionist can drive us crazy! Often these “perfect” people are not only hard on themselves but also hard on everyone else around them. We tend to avoid perfectionists and perfectionism because we know we humans are anything but perfect. Quite frankly, we often drive each other crazy! And yet in today’s gospel Jesus bids us to be “perfect, just as [our] heavenly Father is perfect.” Had we been among his disciples so long ago, we might have responded to Jesus, “Get a life!”
However, Jesus’ call in today’s Gospel to “be perfect” is about relationships. To act toward others as God acts toward us takes quite a bit of readjusting in our thinking and doing. We must squelch our first impulses to strike out with hand and word.
Today, Jesus offers three examples from daily life, depicting relationships between people of unequal social, economic, and political status. The first example refers to a master striking a servant. Matthew is careful to specify that the person is struck on the right cheek: the blow was backhanded, a gesture which demeaned at least as much as it caused physical injury. The person who turns the other check refuses to be humiliated, indicating nonverbally that he has the same dignity as the striker.
In our treatment of one another – even those who are our enemies – we must treat each other with dignity and readjust our behavior to not “strike” another even if this is our first impulse. This does not mean that Jesus is asking for passivity, but an active love that reveals injustice for what it is without returning it in kind. It is a call to respond to evil by giving witness to God’s creative, salvific love in Jesus, a response worthy of people who are called to be God’s temple. What Jesus is asking us to do is look upon every other person, whether friend or foe, family member or stranger, as the beloved of God. Acting in this manner is being holy and perfect as God is, and is done not in dramatic ways but in simple everyday gesture of love, respect, and care.
Question for Reflection: What helps me turn the other cheek when faced with injustice? How are my relationships a reflection of God’s love?
Copyright © 2017, Scott W. Eakins. All Rights Reserved.