Seventh Sunday of the Year Lv 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48 (Year A)
“Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy. You must not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. You must not exact vengeance, nor must you bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”
Moses called God’s people to be holy, as the Lord their God was holy. Our limited imaginations can scarcely comprehend the holiness of God, still less the manner in which we might share such holiness.
As the passage unfolds, we begin to understand that such holiness reaches beyond a ritualistic and external piety. It is manifested in a purity of heart rooted in selfless love. It is, or should be, at the heart of all our dealings, great or small. Only in this way are our lives formed into the likeness of a God whose holiness is described as compassion and love. “The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy. He does not treat us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our faults.”
Such was the holiness proposed by Jesus to his disciples in a seemingly impossible series of demands: “You have learnt how it was said: eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. If anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well. Love your enemies, in this way you will be sons of your father in heaven. If you love only those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit?”
Our resistance to a love that claims nothing for itself, and is willing to suffer rejection and misunderstanding at the hands of others, betrays the lingering self-interest of our fallen humanity. Such self-interest is redeemed only by the love that gave itself completely on the Cross. It raises us to the love extolled in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited. It is never rude or selfish. It does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins. It is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. Love does not come to an end.”
Such was the perfect love of the crucified Christ, and the revelation of the Father’s perfect holiness. It is only in the grace of that same Lord that we can strive to become perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.