Sunday, February 23, 2014

Homily for Today

Today's First Reading from Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus teaches us that the spirit of charity makes it impossible for the spirits of enmity, revenge, and grudge bearing to dwell within us. Charity requires that fraternal correction be made when necessary.

If the spirits of enmity, revenge and grudge bearing dwell in us, then they coexists with the spirit of hatred towards others. If the spirit of hatred is within us, then we are living in sin. The First Reading reminds us not to incur sin through the spirit of hatred because of our behaviour towards one or more persons.

Today's Second Reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians [1 Cor. 3:16-23] reminds us of the division that dwelled in the Corinthian Church during the first century.

When Paul said, "Do you not know that you are God's Temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?", he was speaking of two Temples. First of all, the Corinthian community was a Temple of God, because the Divine Spirit dwelled in it. Secondly, the Holy Spirit dwelled in all those who had been baptised.

Now these two Temples, within the community and within each individual were being destroyed by division. Some of the Christians claimed to belong to Paul, others to Apollos. Who were Saint Paul and Apollos? They were nothing, merely human servants of the Church in the Name of Jesus Christ. In their vain and merely human appraisal of the ministers of the Gospel the Corinthians were displaying their foolishness, judging by the wisdom of the world. No Christian should glory in men, calling himself a disciple of any preacher, to the detriment of the unity of the Church. The ministers of the Gospel are for the faithful, not the faithful for them.

Paul made a very powerful statement when he said, "If anyone destroys God's Temple, God will destroy that person. For God's Temple is holy, and you are that Temple.

Nowadays, there are many who's actions are causing division in the Church. There is the division caused by the followers of Medjugorje who belittle those who do not believe in that alleged Marian apparition. After all, does the Church not teach that it is not necessary to believe in apparitions in order to be saved? Is it not through the Sacraments that we grow in Christ and in His Church, such faith leading to salvation?

Then there are those who reject doctrinal teachings of the Church on matters of abortion, birth control, the death penalty, same sex marriage, etc... They, some of them clergy members and religious sisters, claim there is nothing wrong with these beliefs, such causing confusion within the faithful and finally division. Remember, 'If anyone destroys God's Temple, God will destroy that person."

It is no wonder that Saint Paul said, "Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." These words come from the Old Testament where we read, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," [Job 5:12] and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." [Ps. 94:11]

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we belong to Christ, who in turn belongs to God. The Christian dominates the world and its happenings. Through faith and hope, he already shares in the triumph of the Lord.

Today's Reading from the Gospel of Matthew has to do with retaliation versus loving one's enemy.

In the Old Testament, we read,

"If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." [Ex. 21:23-5] "Anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death. Anyone who kills an animal shall make restitution for it, life for life. Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered." [Lv. 24:17-20]

"Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." [Dt. 19:21.]

Making reference to these passages, Jesus said, you have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

The law of revenge was an ancient custom of the Near East that protected individuals by obliging the next of kin to avenge injury or murder or to purchase property to pay the debts of a kinsman.

Regarding Jesus' teachings, we take note,

First, regarding physical violence, it is not to be met with physical violence; it is to be suffered.

Secondly, regarding legal contention (arguments), the disciples are told not to meet legal action with legal action, but to yield what is contested and even beyond what is contested.

If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well. The garments mentioned are the tunic, a long shirt worn next to the body, and the cloak, a heavier outer garment that protected against cold and rain. These were normally the only two garments worn by the Palestinian peasant.

In Ex. 22:25-26 the creditor who takes the cloak in pledge is directed to return it at sundown so that the debtor may have covering for the night.

Thirdly, regarding forced labor or service, if anyone forced a slave or a worker to go one mile, that Christian was advised to go with them also the second mile. Today, we can compare that to your employer asking you to work a half hour longer because of a backlog of work that needs to be done. The Christian behaviour would oblige you to work an extra hour instead of a half hour to ensure that the needs of your employer are met.

Fourthly, on the matter of gifts and loans, do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Obviously, that is if you have the money to lend. If you are truthfully broke, then you cannot lend money to the needy person.

It is difficult to see how the principle of non-resistance and yielding could be more clearly stated. The rationalizations of the words of Jesus do not show that his words are impractical or exaggerated, but simply that the Christian world has never been ready and is not ready now to live according to this spiritual ethic.

Quoting the last paragraph from today's Gospel Reading, it states, "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

The precept of love of one's neighbor is quoted from the Book of Leviticus where we read, "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord." [Lv. 18:18]

My brothers and sisters, no one needs to be instructed to hate his enemies. But, we do need to be reminded to love our enemies.

The meaning of the word "neighbor" as found in the Book of Leviticus is a reference to one's group or fellowship: one's village or town, one's religion or nation, one's tribe or race. In many languages the same word is used to designate "stranger," "foreigner," or "enemy." The enemy is specified in the Gospel of Matthew as the persecutor, probably a reflection of the experience of the early Church.

The disciples were taught to show the same indifference to friends and enemies that God shows in his distribution of sunshine and rain; in exhibiting this godlike providence they vindicate their title of sons of God.

Love within one's group or fellowship is merely a natural and universal human trait. But by implementing this kind of love, a forgiving love, the disciples were being perfected as the heavenly Father is perfect.

Let us remember this week to "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." Let us pray for each other that we may all have the strength to forgive our enemies so we may be perfected by the power of the Holy Spirit in the most Holy Name of Jesus for the glory of God the Father.

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