7th Sunday A
The most ancient law we know of teaches ‘a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye’. Its author, scripture scholar William Barclay tells us, was a gentleman called ‘Seamus’ Hammurabi. He lived in the Middle East some 4500 years ago. Back then, the custom was if you took a person’s eye or tooth or any other bodily part, the victim’s family took your life and the lives of all your family. Brutal times. Jesus grew up in a more civilised society where an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth was allowed. But he came and preached the reign of God which called for a better way of life – what today is called the ‘universal call to holiness’: love for God, love for one’s neighbour, generosity, nonviolence, peace, compassion, mercy and forgiveness.
The Sermon on the Mount is a kind of apologia for the kingdom of heaven, the universal call to holiness. Only God is holy, just as only people are human. To speak of anything else as holy is to say that it has something of God’s mark upon it. Paul reminds us in the second reading today that we are the holy temple of God. Times, places, things and people can be holy, and when they are, they are usually not hard to recognise. Holy people are marked by a transparent simplicity and normality that’s not of their making. They are, often unknown to themselves, touched by God’s Spirit. God makes us holy, not ourselves.
“You have learnt how it was said: You must love God and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” At first blush Jesus’ injunction looks humanly impossible. But in Jesus’ terms we can love our neighbours without necessarily liking them. In fact liking them may sometimes stand in the way of loving them. Jesus doesn’t mean loving as primarily a feeling. Whether or not any feeling is involved, loving God means honouring and listening and obeying and staying in constant touch with God, and loving our neighbours means acting in their best interests no matter what, even if personally we can’t stand them.
A major difference between hating and loving is that whereas to love somebody is to be fulfilled and enriched by the experience, to hate somebody is to be diminished and fatigued by it. Lovers, by losing themselves in their loving, find themselves. Haters simply lose themselves; theirs is the ultimately consuming passion. Jesus showed us how to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. “A higher consciousness of love, putting on the mind of Christ, is how we deal with human misunderstandings and conflicts” – Ilia Delio. A higher awareness of Christ within us – ‘I live now, not I but Christ lives in me’ – is an outcome of contemplative prayer.
Fr. QQ – 02/15/2023