Leviticus 19, 1-2 and 17-18
- Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. The two parts that make up this short reading tie in obviously to today’s Gospel. The God I hear commanding Israel is speaking from the Sabbath
rest, inviting the people into that rest. And this reminds me of one of the church’s
favorite gathering songs, Psalm 95.
- If “holy” means to be set apart and not of this earth, how can we be holy? According to Leviticus, we achieve holiness by observing the
commandments. In terms of holiness, the most obvious way is to reject earthly values and seek those of heaven. The church prays this often after the communion.
I will pronounce the word in its richness, to set it apart from the rest, so that the people will hear it.
- I skip to a set of commands covering dealings with your brother,
your fellow man, your fellow countrymen,
who together define your neighbor. Scripture
refers to the people of Israel, and it
is quite challenging just to act honestly and fairly with our own kin. We who
follow Jesus have extended our caring to everyone we meet, just as he did.
- All three commands forbid something: hatred in your heart,
sin, revenge or grudge. Sometimes it is easier to describe the behavior of which we disapprove.
In the Gospel, Jesus is eloquent in describing the positive actions of his followers.
- Love has overtones of familiarity, of fondness. That is the way we live in our own skin; now let us extend it to others.
I will project that fondness now. And as we feel closer to others, we
will feel even closer to the one who commands: I the Lord. Suddenly I recall the phrase “Yo el rey” with which
Spanish kings signed their decrees; a pale comparison indeed.
- Climax: The commandment to love
your neighbor as yourself.
- Message for our assembly: Our faith teaches us to cultivate
a sensitivity for each other that will creep under our skin: as yourself.
- I will challenge myself: To find the voice of God speaking from the
I Corinthians 3, 16-23
- The apostle presents certain common aspects of the faith shared by the members of the church. There is no place for factions here. I am drawn to the final
words: All belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.
- In the first place, You are the temple
of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you. We are all vessels of God’s grace, no matter how we express it through our ministries.
- The temple
of God, which you are, is holy.
I hear an echo of the first reading, something that doesn’t occur too often.
So I should lengthen “holy” as a brief reminder of what we just heard.
- Let no one deceive himself.
The apostle next discusses wisdom and foolishness, which he did previously
in this letter. Of course there was a Jewish wisdom tradition, but Paul refers
to the schools of philosophy in the Greek cities. Other Christian preachers may
have made the connection between Christ and this wisdom. Not Paul! The wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God. I look on this section as a reminder of what he said before. So as I rehearse, I will say it as if I am reminding them again that we cannot compare our life of grace
with strictly human institutions and structures, or with the notion of “conventional wisdom” as expressed by John
- And then the wonderful conclusion. Let no one boast about human beings, for everything (of importance) belongs
to you. Catholics are not immune to playing favorites, whether popular authors,
theologians, spiritual guides, even saints! The Corinthians were fans of Paul or Apollos or Kephas. At
the core, however, we are all followers of Christ and acting in his name.
- When the apostle says the world or life or death… he merely means
that anyone or anything we may claim as our special preserve is in fact our common ground, our common heritage.
- All belong to you – and you to Christ – and Christ
to God. Let me take pains to conclude my reading on a high. I could read this as a billboard slogan, or I could touch hearts by connecting them to Christ and God into
whose presence we have come. The simplest sentences usually take the most time
- Climax: Everything belongs to you.
There are no reserved seats in the church.
- The message for our assembly: Let us look less to our unique gifts and more to the blessings in which we all share.
- I will challenge myself: To gather the various themes together, to celebrate our common heritage of faith that the
apostle preached. Let me do what I can to challenge the factions in our parish
to unite around the Lord.
Matthew 5, 38-48
- This Gospel passage, with some of the most difficult sayings of Jesus, is very seldom read because of the Lenten/Easter
break in Ordinary Time. That is why I must try even harder to confront my listeners
with it, speaking the commands with authority so that they cannot quickly forget what they heard.
- Offer no resistance to one who is evil. Jesus meant this: Don’t play by their rules, but by mine. Stop
the vicious circle of vengeance. As I read I think of the men and women who stand
between armed factions in divided societies such as Northern Ireland, Sudan, Israel/Palestine, and along our own southern
border with Mexico.
- Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. I can see the purpose if I really accept the fact that we are all children of God. This saying overrules all doctrine about the exclusive nature of Catholicism.
- Do not the tax collectors and the pagans do the same? Almost all my good works measure as nothing in these terms. Do I really believe what I am saying?
- Central point: No one is our enemy. Everyone is our neighbor because all
are children of your heavenly Father.
- Message for our assembly: Do we believe that Jesus is speaking only to his most heroic followers? Vatican II called everyone in the church to holiness.
- I will challenge myself: To set this invitation squarely in the face of all my listeners, through an alert reading.
From Word to Eucharist: God
wants us to take our neighbors under our skin. Jesus who shows us the face of
God wants us to treat preferentially even those who would trample on us and our honor.
The more others get under our skin, the more we see their warts and feel their threat.
That’s a forbidding scenario for our procession. It was the Lord’s
way. If we truly believe that he overcame, then so can we.