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Sunday Scripture: Be holy

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February 16, 2011

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48



When we are young, we imitate our parents. But even when we are older, we often pattern our behavior on that of others. We frequently copy the dress, the speech, the behavior of those we admire — professional athletes, entertainers, other prominent people. Jesus calls His followers to set our eyes on the most exalted possible example and be imitators of God.  


The reading from the Gospel according to Matthew is another excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount. In it Jesus continues contrasting the laws of the Old Testament with the rules He lays down for His followers. He takes up two laws from the Old Testament, the second of which is “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  


The rule that Jesus gives His followers is “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Once again Jesus’ new command includes the old, but goes beyond it. Not only are we to love those who love us, we are also to love those who do not. By loving all in this way we will imitate the love of God that extends to all, the bad as well as the good.


The reading from the Book of Leviticus contains the Old Testament law that Jesus discusses in the Gospel reading. This reading from Leviticus makes it clear that the Old Testament did not actually command hatred of one’s enemies. The commandment was only “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  


People may have concluded from the lack of explicit reference to anyone other than neighbors, that they were free to hate their enemies. But this goes beyond what Leviticus says, and Jesus teaches that this is not a valid conclusion for His followers.


Like Jesus’ teaching, the commandment of Leviticus is a call to be like God. Leviticus introduces the collection of laws to which this law belongs with the injunction “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”


The reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians continues his discussion of divisions within the Corinthian church, and his argument that following Jesus is a matter of a different wisdom than that which the world recognizes. In today’s reading he says “If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.”  


Taken together with the reading from the Gospel of Matthew, the reading from Paul’s letter reminds us that loving our enemies and turning the other cheek to those who strike us is not at all in accord with the wisdom of the world. Behaving in this way is an example of becoming a fool in the eyes of the world.


Like the other readings, the reading from Paul’s letter urges us to imitate God in our lives. According to Paul, becoming a fool in the eyes of the world is a matter of becoming truly wise, that is, acting in accord with divine wisdom.


There is a secret wisdom of God that is not easy to see or understand because it is opposite what we naturally believe to be wise. For Paul this hidden divine wisdom is revealed most clearly in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Those who believe that this was the saving act of God must also believe that God does not proceed in the way that makes most sense to us. Believing in Jesus requires us to take on a new way of seeing the world and living in it.



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