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7th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)

Readings:
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
Psalm 103:1-4, 8-10, 12-13
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Holiness
God told His covenant people Israel: "For I, the LORD, am your God; and you shall make and keep yourselves holy, because I am holy" (Lev 11:44).  A Holy Father deserves holy children; it is a command for the covenant people's holiness that is repeated in our first reading.  As New Covenant Christians, God calls us to an even higher standard of holiness than our Old Covenant brothers and sisters.  We are called to live in the image of Jesus Christ and to "be perfect" as our heavenly Father is perfect.

Our First Reading repeats the command for the necessity of the covenant people's holiness. Quoting from the command for holiness within the covenant community, St. Peter wrote that the strength to offer this kind of commitment to holiness comes from living in imitation of God's holiness (1 Pt 1:14-16). And St. Paul wrote that holiness comes from having the courage to love others as Christ loved us (Eph 5:1-2). The Leviticus passage in the First Reading goes on to command God's holy people to "love your neighbor as yourself." It is a command Jesus will repeat in Luke 10:27, quoting from Leviticus 19:18. We are to love one another because God loves us, and He is the very definition of love (1 Jn 4:8). That God is love becomes the principle of our activity in extending works of mercy and charity to others and in fulfilling the commandment to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

In the Responsorial Psalm, the psalmist reflects on God's holiness and His mercy in forgiving the sins of those who are faithful and fear offending Him. The psalmist compares God to a father who shows loving compassion to his children. It is a description of God that reveals the psalmist's understands the intense love that God has for humanity.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul urges Christian to live in holiness, referring both to individual Christians and to the Body of Christ that is the Church. Paul tells the church at Corinth that they have a duty to live in holiness because they are individually and collectively the "temple of God."

The Gospel Reading continues with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Our reading completes the Six Antithesis part of His sermon with teachings on retaliation and love of one's enemies. Jesus asks us not to seek vengeance against an enemy but rise to a higher standard of holiness in extending our mercy and love. Whenever we are seeking redress for wrongs inflicted upon us, we must be willing to acknowledge that ultimately justice must be left in the hands of our just and holy God to deliver justice either temporally or eternally. We should also remember that when we come to Him to repent our sins and when in death we come face to face with Him for our individual judgments before the throne of God, we will be pleading for His divine mercy. As Jesus tells us in His sermon, "You must therefore set no bounds to your love, just as your heavenly Father sets none to his" (Mt 5:48).

The First Reading Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 ~ Love of Neighbor as a mark of Holiness
1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy."
17 "You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.  Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him.  18 Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the LORD."

The command in our reading is from the Holiness Code of the Sinai Covenant, a set of religious and secular laws found in Leviticus chapters 17-26.  The section of those commands within the Holiness Code found in Leviticus 19:1-37 address conduct within the covenant community.  The first commands to love God and to love one's neighbor are in the Ten Commandments.  The first three of the Ten Commandments address the people's relationship with God (Ex 20:3-11; Dt 5:7-15), and the love of one's neighbor is the sum of the last seven of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:12-17; Dt 5:17-21).  However, the Israelites thought of the command to love one's neighbor in terms of one's countryman or woman (covenant brothers and sisters) and that the command did not pertain to foreigners/those outside the covenant. 

In Luke 10:29, a scholar of the law who wanted to test Jesus asked: "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  Jesus responded by quoting two passages from Old Covenant law: "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind," quoting from Deuteronomy 6:7, and next He quoted from Leviticus 19:18, "and your neighbor as yourself."  Then the scholar tested Jesus further by asking "And who is my neighbor?" (Lk 11:29).  Jesus answered by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan as an illustration that the command to love one's neighbor extended beyond fellow Jews.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained that by being obedient to Leviticus 19:18 in showing God's love and justice to others that the people of God were distinguished from others in the world and became "children of God (Mt 5:43-48; see the Gospel reading).  Quoting from the command for holiness in Leviticus 11:44, St. Peter wrote that the strength to offer this kind of love comes from living in imitation of God's holiness (1 Pt 1:14-16). St. Paul wrote that holiness comes from having the courage to love others as Christ loved us: As God's dear children, then, take him as your pattern, and follow Christ by loving as he loved you, giving himself up for us as an offering and a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God (Eph 5:1-2), because God is love (1 Jn 4:8).  That God is love becomes the principle of our activity in extending works of mercy and charity to others and in fulfilling the commandment to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  Also see 1 Jn 3:2-10.

Responsorial Psalm 103:1-4, 8-10, 12-13 ~ God's Mercy
The response is: "The Lord is kind and merciful."
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name.  2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
3 He pardons all your iniquities; he heals all your ills.  4 He redeems your life from destruction; he crowns you with kindness and compassion.
8 Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.  9 Not according to our sins does he deal with us, 10 nor does he requite us according to our crimes.
12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.  13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.

In the previous Psalm, the psalmist is at the point of death and pleads with God for help (Ps 102:11, 24).  Now he blesses God (an expression of gratitude) and gives thanks to God for restoring him to health (103:3-4).  In verses 8-10 he gives his reasons for his praise by summarizing what God has done for His covenant people.  In verses 12-13, he reflects on God's mercy in forgiving the sins of those who are faithful and fear offending God.  He compares God to a father who shows loving compassion to his children (verse 13).  The description of God reveals the psalmist's understanding of the intense love that God has for mankind.  St. Thomas Aquinas also reflected on God's intense love for mankind and wrote: "So splendid is the grace of God and his love for us that he has done much more for us than we can ever comprehend" (Expositio in Credum, 61).

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 ~ The Christian is the Dwelling Place of God
16 Do not you know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.  18 Let no one deceive himself.  If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise.  19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written: "God catches the wise in their own ruses," 20 and again: "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. "  21 So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, 22 Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world of life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, 23 and you to Christ, and Christ to God.

In his first letter to the Christians of Corinth, Greece, Paul urges the Christian community to live in holiness because they are individually and collectively the "temple of God."  In verses 16-17 Paul refers both to individual Christians and to the Body of Christ which is the Church.  The Church as God's temple is a favorite simile of St. Paul's in his letters to the Corinthians (1 Cor 6:19-20; 2 Cor 6:16), in which he reminds the community that God the Holy Spirit dwells within the holy souls of the faithful believer in Christ Jesus.  If harm comes to any of them, God will bring divine justice against their oppressor, because they belong to Him. 

We know through Jesus' teaching that it is not only the Holy Spirit who dwells within the soul of the Baptized Christian but the souls of holy Christians become the tabernacles of the Most Holy Trinity; for where one person of the Most Holy Trinity is present so are the other two.  In His last homily on the night of the Last Supper Jesus said: The Spirit of Truth ... dwells with you, and will be in you ... If a man loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (Jn 14:17-23).  On the same subject, Pope Leo XIII wrote: "...by means of grace God dwells in the just soul as in a temple, in a special and intimate manner" (Divinum illud munus, 10).

As an application of his teaching about true wisdom versus human wisdom, Paul writes to the Corinthians that the worst kind of foolishness is thinking one is wise by human wisdom which is foolishness to God.  He quotes two Biblical passages, Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 (verses 19-20), to support his claim that a human approach without God is doomed to failure.  His argument is that the Christian grows wiser the more he identifies the desires for his life with God's divine plan.  The Christian's outlook must be supernatural, realizing that Jesus works through our human weakness to reveal His divine glory (verses 18-20).

Paul also teaches that one consequence of worldly wisdom is to focus on the teachings of one particular teacher (citing himself, Apollos, and St. Peter to whom he refers to by the Greek transliterated Aramaic title Jesus gave Peter = "Rock," Cephas).  In following only one teacher, one forgets that all true Christian ministers of the Gospel are dedicated to serving the faithful (verse 21) and divisions within the community can arise.  Not only do all the teachers belong to the Church and therefore belong to all Christians, but by being adopted sons and daughters of God every Baptized Christian has a share in Jesus' Lordship: for everything belongs to you, 22 Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world of life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, 23 and you to Christ, and Christ to God (verses 22- 23).

The Gospel of Matthew 5:38-48 ~ The Fifth and Sixth Antithesis from the Sermon on the Mount
Jesus taught His disciples: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'  39 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.  40 If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.  41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.  42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. 43 You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 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.  46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?  Do not the tax collectors do the same?  47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that?  Do not the pagans do the same?  48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."

#5: Teaching about Retaliation (verses 38-42)

The expression an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is in the Law codes of Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21; it is called the lex talionis, the law of reciprocity or equivalent compensation.  Most people regard the Old Testament command an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth as unreasonably harsh and barbaric.  On the contrary, this commandment was meant to moderate vengeance, to protect the innocent family members of an accused or convicted perpetrator of a crime, and to ensure that the punishment visited on the offender did not exceed the crime.  It was common in ancient cultures for a man's entire family to suffer the death penalty or sold into slavery for his offense.  The law of reciprocity or equivalent compensation found in the Law Codes of the Sinai Covenant and also in the Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian law code dating to the 17th century BC, demands that the punishment fits but does not exceed the crime.  This law became the mark of a civilized society.

The response Jesus asks is beyond seeking equivalent compensation for the commission of a crime, or for an injustice, or for an inconvenience.  He gives four examples of acting in love rather than in retaliation:

  1. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.  Offer meekness and love in place of violence and evil.
  2.  If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.  This example refers to someone taking you to court for not handing over your tunic as collateral for a loan.
  3. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.  The Roman occupiers of Judea had the right to press ordinary citizens into service.
  4. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.  Be generous with your material possession with someone who wants to borrow.

What He is demanding of the Christian seems an almost impossible standard of conduct; He asks the Christian to "offer no resistance to evil" and to "go the extra mile" in extending love and compassion.  Jesus is not demanding that Christians become the "footstools of the wicked," and He is not rejecting the law of reciprocity, but what He is rejecting is vengeance or meanness on a personal level.  In Romans 12:19, St. Paul teaches, Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath [of God], for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 

That is not to say we do not seek civil justice for wrongs.  Without civil laws, society would be in anarchy for there would be no other deterrent for the behavior of the unrighteous non-believer.  But when the civil laws do not bring justice, we are promised God's divine justice and His vengeance on our behalf.  Whenever we are seeking redress for wrongs inflicted upon us, we must be willing to acknowledge that ultimately justice must be left in the hands of our just and true God to deliver justice either temporally or eternally.  We must also acknowledge that when we are being asked to be merciful, that in the repentance of our sins and in our individual judgment before the throne of God we will be pleading for His divine mercy.  The way the meek and merciful peacemakers of the Beatitudes strike back at their enemies is through love by praying for their enemies, and the way we show our gratitude for God's mercy is by extending our mercy to others. 

#6: Teaching about the Love of Enemies (verses 43-48)

You don't love in your enemies what they are, but what you would have them become by your prayers.
St. Augustine (354-430AD)

Matthew 5:43-48 ~ "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 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.  46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?  Do not the tax collectors do the same?  47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that?  Do not the pagans do the same?  48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."

To hate your enemy (verse 43) is not a teaching found in the Old Testament.  There is, however, a command to love one's neighbor in Leviticus 19:18 which Jesus will repeat in Matthew 19:19; 22:39 and Mark 12:31.  Jesus will also repeat this teaching concerning love of one's enemies in the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:27-35.  In Leviticus 19:18 God called His people to a standard of holiness by the command, Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The Old Covenant people of God interpreted one's "neighbor" as only extending to a member of the covenant people of Yahweh, and hatred of one's enemies as natural and therefore acceptable.   Jesus is teaching that this limited interpretation is not acceptable, and He is extending the command to love not only to pagan Gentiles but He is also extending the command to love even to the enemy and the persecutor. 

The reason Jesus gives for this radical redefinition of those we must love is found in in Matthew 5:45.  As children of God, Jesus calls upon us to imitate our Father in heaven who grants His blessings of sun and rain to both the righteous and the unrighteous.  In the same way that God does not withhold His blessings, so too must we not withhold our love.  This passage contains the key teaching of the Sermon on the Mount in verse 48: the Christian must be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.  In the Gospels, this Greek word, teleios, "to be perfect," occurs only 3 times; twice in this passage and in Matthew 19:21 where Jesus tells a rich young ruler to go and sell what he has and give it to the poor if he wants to be "perfect."  This standard is an impossible demand without the action of the Holy Spirit in the Christian's life.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is calling His disciples to a higher standard of faithfulness than was required of the faithful who had lived under the Law of the Sinai Covenant.  St. Paul taught in Romans 10:4 that Christ is the end of the Law for the justification of everyone who has faith, which means that yielding to the sovereignty of God only through obedience to the Law is not enough.  God's action in the Incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the goal or true meaning of the "Law of God" and without whom the true meaning of the Law cannot be understood or lived, supersedes the old Mosaic Law

In Romans 13:8-10 St. Paul also addresses how love, as defined by Christ, has fulfilled the law of the Old Covenant.  In this passage, Paul writes: ... for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law, and Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.  Christ is the end and the fulfillment of the Old Covenant Law in two ways:

  1. He fulfills the purpose and goal of the Old Covenant Law.  As He stated in Matthew 5:17, I have not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.  He does this by perfectly exemplifying God's desires for man created in His image; no other man except the Son of Man could perfectly keep the Law without sinning.
  2. He is also the termination of the Old Covenant Law because without Christ the old Law was powerless to offer the gift of the Holy Spirit and eternal salvation (CCC 1963, 1966).  The Law, in essence, prefigured the Christ.  The sacrificial system was a temporary measure of salvation meant to instruct and prepare humanity for the coming of the Messiah (see Heb 10:1-4).  Christ was the reason for animal sacrifice and the ritual purity laws; the Law pointed to Christ in whom it was fulfilled.  Only through Jesus Christ are the gifts of salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit given to mankind (CCC 601-04, 729, 1287).

Under the New Covenant, when the love of Christ directs our moral decisions and our relationships to one another, the intent of the continuing moral law expressed in the Old Covenant is safeguarded and fulfilled.  In fulfilling and transforming the Old Covenant Law, God requires in the New Covenant that the new Law of holiness and obedience of faith be lived in the love of Christ.  That love of Christ must be demonstrated by charity to all men and women in the human family and fulfilled by the Holy Spirit dwelling in each Christian heart which beats with the life of the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth!

Catechism References:
Leviticus 19:2 (CCC 2811); 19:18 (CCC 2055)
Psalm 103 (CCC 304)
Matthew 5:42 (CCC 2443); 5:43-44 (CCC 1933, 2844); 5:44-45 (CCC 2303, 2608); 5:44 (CCC 1825, 1968, 2262); 5:45 (CCC 2828); 5:46-47 (CCC 2054); 5:47 (CCC 1693), 5:48 (CCC 443, 1693, 1968, 2013, 2842)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014