Written by Nicholas King SJ
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 12:51
• Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
• Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13
• 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
• Matthew 5:38-48
One of the most remarkable things about our biblical texts is that we are invited to become like God, in the Old Testament, and, in the New, like Jesus. That is the invitation laid before us by next Sunday’s readings.
The first reading has as its centre, “You are to be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy”. And what does holiness imply? “You are not to hate your brother with your heart...you are not to take revenge or bear a grudge against the children of your people. You are to love your neighbour as yourself”. It is obvious, once you think about it, but we need to think about what it means, this invitation to holiness.
The psalm likewise invites us to keep our eyes on God: “Bless the Lord, my soul, and let all that is within me bless God’s holy name”. In particular we are led to see what our God is like: “who forgives all your sins, and heals all your ills...surrounds you with love and compassion”. And where we might be inclined to explode in rage at those whom we perceive to be “sinners”, God is “slow to anger, rich in mercy...and has not dealt with us as our sins deserve” (just in case you fancy that you are sinless). God is “as a father with his children, so the Lord is merciful on those who fear him”.
In the second reading, Paul is dealing with his Corinthians, who have rather gone off the rails because they regard themselves as too “clever” for that sort of thing, and have forgotten that they are “the Temple of God – and the Spirit of God lives among you”. So they must stop trying to steal the advantage over against each other, and recognise that God has given them everything: “everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God”. We need to remind ourselves of this in our dealings with each other.
In the gospel for next Sunday, Jesus is continuing his review of the Law; his line is that not only must Christians keep the Law – we must actually be stricter about it than other people. And the reason for that is so that we should become more like God, and more like Jesus. The reading starts with a famous quotation, “eye for eye and tooth for tooth”; we shall do well to remember that originally this was not a command to vengeance, but a reminder that vengeance is to be strictly limited. Jesus restrains our lust for revenge even more severely than in the Old Testament version: “turn the other cheek...if someone wants your jacket, give them your trousers as well! Give to beggars when they ask you”. He even tells us how we are to deal with the colonialist invaders: “if someone conscripts you to walk one mile, then go two miles with him [of your own accord].” And, just as you are thinking, “this is crazy”, it gets harder: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who are persecuting you”. And why? “So that you may become children of your Father in Heaven, because he makes his sun rise on the wicked as well as the good, and his rain fall on the moral as well as the immoral”. So if we are to be like God, we cannot be content to be nice merely to those who are nice to us, or exchange greetings with those who are our brothers and sisters in the faith. Alarmingly, the invitation comes to us to be “perfect, just as your Father, the Heavenly One, is perfect”. You are alarmed at that; but just consider: how has God dealt with you, thus far in your life? And what did Jesus do to those who attacked him and stripped him of his clothes and crucified him, and wanted things from him? And what was Jesus’ attitude to those whom you or I might class as “immoral” or “wicked”. Think about that this week, and reflect on how you are going to resemble God during the next few days.