February 23rd 2014 (A) Seventh Sunday of the Year
A. THE BIBLE as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
B. Reflection & Dialogue: Christ and the mystery of the Church
The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings).
First Reading (Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18). You must love your neighbour as yourself.
Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus, from which this reading is taken, is a collection of texts without much unity between them apart from the reference to the holiness of God and of his will made manifest in the Ten Commandments. The aim of the chapter is to indicate the way of life pronper to the people of God, and is in contrast to the many prohibitions on matters relating to sexual morality spoken of in the preceding chapter 18. To go with today’s gospel reading on the call to holiness, the texts for this first reading are chosen because they speak of God’s call to holiness, and the command to love one’s neighbour as oneself, without hatred for one’s fellows, without exacting vengeance or bearing a grudge – all in imitation of God himself. We may note that in the Old Testament and in Israelite tradition, by “neighbour” a member of the Israelite community was meant. Jesus will give the term a broader meaning in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 102). The Lord is compassion and love
Second Reading (1 Corinthians 3:16-23). All are your servants, but you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.
In this reading Paul is still discussing problems that occupied him in the first chapter of this letter, read in the Third Sunday of the Year. The problem concerned the divisions that had arisen in Corinth showing allegiance or respect to stated persons: Paul, Cephas (Peter), Apollos. Such concerns with individuals took from attention to Christ and his central position in the Church. Paul stressed the dangers in using human wisdom and human standards in Church affairs, without due respect for the divine wisdom revealed through the death on the cross and the resurrection of Christ. He returns to the same theme in this reading. The Church belongs to the mystery of God’s holiness. She is the temple of God and the basic liturgy and sacrifice offered in this temple is a Christian life, made possible and guided by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Lack of respect for, or offences against, the Church, the Temple of God would be an offence against God himself. That was being done, or in danger of being done, in Corinth by the undue respect shown to those stated individuals, in an activity guided by worldly, not divine, wisdom. Such human wisdom Paul says is foolishness to God. He uses two Old Testament texts (Job 5:13 and Ps 94:11) to indicate God’s lack of respect for such human wisdom. In Corinth the groups in question (1 Corinthians 1:12) were saying: I belong to (follow) Paul, Cephas or Apollos. Paul corrects this. It is not that they belong to these persons, but that the persons, and much more, belong to them, to the Christian community, and that they all belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. They are all united in the mystery, in the wisdom, of God. Such is the divine mystery that is the Church. It is not any merely human foundation.
The Gospel (Matthew 5:38-48). Love your enemies.
There are two sections to this reading, each in the theme “You have learnt”, contrasting earlier Jewish or Old Testament teaching with Jesus’ new interpretation. The first is on “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth”. This is taken from an Old Testament law code (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21). In the original in these law codes the question was not uncontrolled revenge, but rather the opposite, parity between offence and penalty – a single eye etc., not two for an eye, etc. The saying may later have been used for revenge, and it is in that sense that it appears in the present text. Jesus teaches that there is no place for such behaviour among his followers. Quite the opposite, as the reading makes clear. One might think that Jesus indulges in the language of exaggeration. His words have had quite an influence and effect in popular language and even in political discussion, as for instance “two miles”, or “the extra mile”.
The second section on “You have learnt” instances “Your must love your neighbour and hate your enemy”. The command to love one’s neighbour is from Leviticus 19:18, in the passage assigned as today’s first reading. There is no explicit command to hate one’s enemy in the Old Testament, although attitudes of various groups to outsiders may have been regarded as this. The monks of Jewish monastic community at Qumran, who regarded themselves as “the sons of light”, expressed hatred of another group they named as “sons of darkness”. The attitude of Sirach 12:4-7 practically amounts to hatred: “For the Most High also hates sinners”. Sometimes in the Bible, including the New Testament, “to hate” can mean “to love less”, but scarcely in this text, where “hate” probably represents the attitude towards those who are not regarded as among neighbours. In any event, Jesus’ words are in keeping with his earlier saying: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God”, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the loving and merciful Father in heaven who loves the human race without any distinction, without any outsiders. To be “perfect”, complete in one’s humanity and mercy, the model is set: perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.
B. Reflection & Dialogue: Christ and the mystery of the Church
The world of Paul and the young Christian community at Corinth may seem far removed from today’s Church and the problems confronting it. And yet, despite the differences from the political and social points of view Paul’s words continue to address us today, since divine mysteries know no difference in time. And the Church today is a divine mystery, just as it was in Paul’s day. She is properly understood not through human wisdom, but through faith. For some time now the Church has attracted media attention by reason of the many scandals within it. Sometimes the Church is spoken of as if it were corrupt. In such discussion the Church is regarded only as if it were a merely human institution, the “institutional” Church. It is criticized at time by members of the clergy, among other groups.
It is understandable and indicated that that weaknesses and scandals within the Church be criticized. But believers should realize that these are part of the human side of the Church. One should not forget that the Church remains God’s holy Church, the temple of the Holy Spirit and part of the divine mystery. As such she is not, and cannot be, corrupt. She continues to preach the good news of salvation to God’s holy people, who under the guidance of the Holy Spirit live in accordance with God’s word. Any criticism by believers should bear these truths in mind. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, read in the second reading today, still merit reflection: the Church, as the Temple of God, is holy. It is a serious matter to damage it.