THE SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – February 23, 2014

 

From the Book of Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18

From the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 3:16-23

From the holy Gospel according to Matthew 5:38-48

 

Each Sunday as I watch the Catechumens as they are called up before the Assembly to be sent forth to continue to ponder the Liturgy of the Word, I wonder what they are thinking.  That is especially true when demanding and life altering readings such as this week’s have been proclaimed.  How many of them are stunned and ask themselves, “Who can do these things?”  “Surely these texts put forth exaggerations, impossible to carry out, so that the hearer can pare them down and improve behaviors somewhat.”  Some in the Assembly may be thinking in the same manner.

The truth is what Jesus preaches to the disciples, to those who have decided to be his followers, doesn’t offer much wiggle room.  Discipleship is all demanding.  Disciples are to be a new creation whose manner of living and acting can only be explained by their imitation of Jesus and his living within them.  The Catechumens are on a journey that lasts at least a complete Liturgical Cycle so that they can hear and respond to a complete Gospel.  Only when they have heard the full challenge that Jesus issues will they be able to accept discipleship and enter the Waters to die to the old self and rise to their new life in Christ.  When they say Yes at that point they are ready, with the help of the Spirit, to be Christ’s presence in the world, that is, to live their Baptismal Priesthood.

In the first reading, through Moses, God calls the people to be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.  Expressions of that holiness are the rooting out of hatred and revenge toward their brothers and sisters.  The call is to love your neighbor as yourself.  With all charity, when it is necessary, be a corrective force in the community but always with kindness.  In other words, set the standard and live by it.  When you think about it, and as you look back over the lives of the saints, living the implications of the reading from Leviticus was their path to sainthood.

Jesus builds on Moses’s proclamation and takes us beyond them.  The walls of limitation come down and these directions are not only applicable to our relationships with family and friends, but also to our manner of responding to enemies and those who hate us.  That may seem fine in abstraction.  But put flesh and blood on what Jesus is demanding in terms of people in your own life who have adversely affected you, and you might come to a different conclusion.  Who can do this?

Revenge is a fairly basic human instinct.  If someone hits you, the instinct is to hit him back in self-defense.  Who could blame you for that?  Get the picture clear in your mind; see the person who has hurt you in this way.  Now imagine yourself turning the other cheek, submitting to another blow.  How easy is that?  Who can do that?

The truth is, the Law allowed for one to retaliate in a manner equal to the offense, but not harsher than that.  An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  Turning the other cheek translates into offer no defense; give no retaliation.  Think of that moment in Jesus’ passion when he is being scourged, spat upon, and struck in the face.  There is nothing in the text that hints at self-defense or striking back.  Jesus may ask why he is being struck but there is not a hint of revenge.  Now hear that phrase that Jesus uses in teaching the disciples.  You go and do likewise.

When we are being imposed upon, Jesus expects us, as disciples, to go beyond what is being demanded.  The consequence of that is the removal of anything that would hint at resentment for being asked for assistance or a ride.  Are your teeth beginning to grind yet?  The instinct is to think about how the other will be taking advantage of you, isn’t it?  That’s the point.  We are moving toward the laying down of one’s life for the other.

The next directive is among the most demanding and difficult to practice.  Love your enemies.  And pray for those who persecute you.  To wrestle with this there must be in your memory a major affront or wounding.  Has anyone attempted to ruin your reputation?  Have you been destroyed by vicious rumor or innuendo?  As Job did, have you cried out in the night, Why me, God?  See that person clearly who did this to you, feel the pain again, and now hear Jesus’ command to love that person and pray for him.  Believe me, it can happen, but usually there will be a struggle and a need to die to yourself as you yield to the Spirit and learn what it means to love without any expectation of recompense.  That’s what Jesus did on the Cross in response to those who drove in the nails and lifted him up.

I will never forget reading about an amazing Christian couple that felt the demands of this text in their lives.  Their daughter and been murdered.  The killer had been apprehended, tried, convicted and sent to prison.  As the couple continued to pray and to go to church on Sunday they heard Jesus command them to turn the other cheek, to forgive the offense, and to love.  They determined to go to the prison and meet with the killer and to get to know him.  Over a period of time they did that and were surprised by their ability to forgive the heinous act and, wonder of wonders, come to love the one who took the life of their beloved daughter.  That’s not the end of the story, though.  When the man was granted parole, the couple invited him to come to live with them until he was able to find work and move on.  The last line brought tears to my eyes.  The killer had become like a son to them.

Who can do this?  A more basic question should be, who said discipleship would be easy?  That’s what the Catechumens should be asking themselves as they hear the Gospel proclaimed.  They are journeying through the Church Year in the midst of the Assembly.  And that is where they will find the answers to their questions.  The example of the Assembly will convince them that it is possible to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to do good to those who hate you, and to pray for one’s persecutors.  But what is the secret of those who live this way?

The Catechumens are sent forth before the Eucharistic Prayer begins.
They are told that the Assembly looks forward to the day when they will join the Assembly at the Table.  The Assembly’s secret is their transformation through their celebration of the Eucharist.  It is through giving thanks to God through Jesus’ dying and rising, and through their taking and eating the Bread and the Wine, transformed into the Sacramental Presence of the Lord’s Body and Blood, that they find the way to love others as they are loved by God.

And that is the message the Assembly proclaims as they go forth to be Christ’s presence in the world even as they pray that the Catechumens will do as well, animated by the same Spirit.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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