Lev 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 Cor. 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48
In the world, vengeance is the rule of human retaliation. When someone throws an insulting word at me, I usually answer back not with one word, but a barrage of insulting words. If someone punches me once, I take it my right to throw many more punches in return. If someone bullies me in school, I claim it my right to get a gun and shoot many students and even teachers in that school. You sideswiped me with a car, I will use my truck to drive out off the road into the ditch. The rule of vengeance is do greater harm to the offender than the offense done to me. To curtail the spread of vengeance among the people of God, Moses gave the lex talionis, limiting the harm to be returned only to the amount of harm received: an eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth. This was already a great leap among the ancient peoples.
But Jesus wants us to go beyond these limitations. Three Sundays ago, our Lord gave us the Beatitudes which paint the ideal of Christian perfection. He calls blessed the poor in spirit, the meek, one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness; blessed are the clean of heart, the merciful and the peace makers; blessed too are those who bear insults and suffer persecution. Two Sundays ago Jesus invited us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world; by our love and holiness of life we give flavor to Christian life, and light up the path for others to follow Christ. Today the Lord challenges us to move up higher in our Christian ideal. Leviticus (19:2) puts the command as, “Be holy, for I the Lord your God, am holy.” Matthew (5:48) in our Gospel today says, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Luke (6:36) for his part would put it, “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.” The measure of love in Lev is the self: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus wants us to measure our love with the love of the Heavenly Father and His own: “Love one another as I have loved you.” The measure of love is to love without measure. And so Jesus challenges me today: if someone strikes me on one cheek, I turn the other as well. If someone asks for my tunic, I give my cloak as well. If someone asks me to walk with him a mile, I walk with him an extra mile. Still as though these were not enough generosity, Jesus challenges me to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. Why? Because my Father in heaven makes the sun rise not only on the good but on the bad as well; he gives rain not only to the just but to the unjust and the wicked as well. The heavenly Father is generous to all not only to those who love him. Very many times I deliberately stay away from God and continue in my sins. If God would stop supplying the air I breathe, or the water I drink what would happen to me? If in anger I hit my brother and injure him seriously, would God immediately punish me with hell? No, rather He waits for me to repent and be reconciled with my brother. That is how God is patient with me and with all who sin and offend him. Why can I not be like that, forgiving the offender, praying for him to mend his ways? The greatest love of all was on the cross when at the moment of being nailed hands and feet Jesus cried out: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” “Soften my heart, Lord, and give me a forgiving heart. Teach me and help me to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. Help me to love as you love.” Amen.