Homily (2) Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time A: Fr. Michael Ufok UdoekpoReadings: Lev 19:1-2, 17-18; Ps 103:1-2,3-4,8,10,12-13; 1 Cor 3:16-23 and Matt 5:38-48
Love and Charity- the fullness of Law in Christ!
I was born in the time of the Vatican II, just like many of you (in this Congregation). Obviously, there are also many of you who were born before the Vatican II Council. This group would testify that there have been a lot changes, updating, innovation and renewals, particularly in the areas of liturgical teachings and laws in the Church to meet the needs of the time and culture. Remember, there were times priests were celebrating the Holy mass backing the congregation. But today Masses are celebrated facing the people. There were times Scriptures at worship were read only in Latin. Today we can read it in English. Different nations and cultures can also read it in their native languages. Thanks be to God!In some nations there were times women and the minority were not allow to vote at elections. But today those laws have been changed around. In other parts of the world where cast- system and dictatorship style of government are practice, many are beginning to realize the need for and update. What about the issues of equal pay? In the past men were paid higher than women. Today, we are all agitating for equal pay. What about the “stand your ground laws” in different parts of the United States, Florida in particular? Some are asking that this law be reviewed.
Why am I saying this? I am saying this because of today’s Bible readings. The Book of Leviticus 19:17-18, part of the Holiness Code (Lev 17–26) which says “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But Jesus today, in Matthew’s Gospel says “love your enemy” (Matt 5:44), no retaliation, be charitable to all. The Book of Exodus 21:24-25, quoted even by Jesus, said, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” but Jesus says, “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” (Matt 5:38-42).
What we must bear in mind as we reflect on these Bible passages is that just as we have laws in the church and in the society today been constantly reviewed or updated, the ancient society also needed laws that were been constantly reviewed, innovated and updated to regulate it. Every Society beginning from the time of Moses, Paul and Jesus needed laws and ethical principles to regulate it. They needed an acceptable way of dealing with those who disrupt it. For examples, laws in the book of Exodus were constantly updated in Leviticus, in Deuteronomy, in Nehemiah down to the time of Jesus. Think of what our society would have been without laws against running the red light or robbing a bank.The retributive ethics of the Covenant Code, ‘an eye for an eye or a tooth for tooth” that Christ is working on today from Exodus 21:24-25 was not meant to promote revenge and retaliation. Rather they were meant to protect the citizens against un-proportional, illegitimate and unending retaliation. They were meant to say if a “fly perches on your food you don’t need to attack the fly with an atomic bomb or AK47. Otherwise you might cause more damage than the fly. I remember the last Russian –Georgia war the language of disproportional use of force was constantly used on the media. But for Christ, charity must overcome the thought and the acts of retaliation and violence and disproportionate wars not meant to dissuade attacking enemies and acts of terrorism.
Christ also takes up the Holiness ethics of the first reading, Leviticus 19:18, which says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And “neighbor” here is referring to a fellow Israelite, since a different attitude was required towards those other nations that were hostile to them (see Deut 23:1-3). Certainly, during the time of Christ these laws were also changing. But Jesus teaches us today to take a different spiritual and moral steps and a refined position with regard to our relationship with everybody including those we do not like so much, or those we know do not like us. We need to reread and re-listen to Christ’s sermon on the mountain (Matt 5:1-12), Christ is telling us today that everyone is your neighbors, love them (Matt 5:38-48).We also see the true Christian definition of a neighbor in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 29-36. We see this in the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan women in John chapter 4:4-42. This is what faith does. This is what the water of baptism does. It sets us apart to live the law of love and of Christ!
Sometimes without faith and prayers, Christ invitation to holiness of life of non-revenge and non-violence or practice of charity to everyone sounds frightening and impossible. They are possible with the grace of God. And we can do this in many little ways.
Christ did not come to abolish the laws, but to fulfill them. He rather came replacing violence, racisms, discriminating love with his mission to the cross (Luke 23:24), teaching us how to love and forgive all, including those who persecute the church or ill-treat us. It is uncharitable if we rush to rashes judge our neighbors, “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 3:16-23) or put up a stone face or domineering behavior, becoming absorbed in our personal limited opinions, and world-views in place of openness, a warm smile.It is uncharitable even to select those we say “good morning” to. Or engage in gossips, negative criticism, retaliations or spread falsehoods about our neighbors. For Christ this will be a pagan way of travelling. And none of us would want to travel that low road. We want to live and travel the law which is of fullness of love in Christ!
Let us pray at this Mass for a the grace to live this law of love with deep universal charity and spirit of faith- perseverance to be holy as our Heavenly Father is Holy (Lev 19:2).