23rd February. Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
1st Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
(God calls each believer to love his neighbour as himself, to be tolerant and not vengeful.)
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt youself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
(The Church, the body of believers, is the temple of God, dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit.)
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.
Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”
So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apol’los or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.
Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48
(All is summed up in this ideal: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Living in a one-eyed world
“An eye for an eye!” The old cowboy films regularly featured a scene that always intrigued me. In the bar-room shoot-out, one poor fellow, beaten to the draw, tottered to the floor, riddled with bullets. As the gunman turned away, the dying man managed to raise his gun and fire a last shot into his killer’s back. Then he slumped back and died, almost contentedly, a wisp of smoke spiralling from his gun and a flicker of a smile on his face. Sweet revenge!
This may seem a harmless part of the fantasy-world of Western movies, a kind of poetic justice, an eye for an eye. But revenge is an over-rated value. Life is full of people with chips on their shoulders, real or imaginary, all waiting for a chance to get their own back. They carry their scars through life, refusing to let them heal until they have settled accounts. Feuds, vendettas and–grudges are nurtured in parishes, in streets and even in families.
Some are even passed down from one generation to the next. What a colossal amount of human energy and ingenuity is expended on settling old scores and exacting vengeance. The lex talionis–“an eye for eye and tooth for tooth”–is alive and well and thriving in every human environment, including in the industrial world. Management singles out troublemakers for redundancy. Blacklists are kept. Workers know where and when to call a strike (think of the electricity strike threatened just before Christmas) and who in management is to be sacri ficed. Even in the corridors of power, in the velvet setting of plush boardrooms, the knives are long and sharp and are slipped between pin-striped shoulder-blades with a smile.
Honour is always claimed to be at stake when vengeance is invoked. “Getting one’s own back” is raised to the level of a virtue in our world. The injured party could never hold its head up again if the injury is not repaid. Loved ones too are invoked. We owe it to our wives and children. “Getting even” becomes an obsession. “I’ll fix him if it is the last thing I do.” Shades of the prostrate gunman and his smoking six-shooter! The world has nothing but contempt for the one who “turns the other cheek.” He is a weakling who “takes it lying down.” It goads us on,. “Don’t let them get away with it.” But the Bible says otherwise. The Lord said to Moses: “You must not exact vengeance, nor must you bear a grudge against the children of your people.” What is refreshing about today’s gospel is that it recognises us as we are, full of pettiness, exacting hurt for hurt, trading blow for blow. We all have enemies who persecute us. Letting them get away with it is not easy. Loving them is a call to perfection. “You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”