Psalms 103:1-4, 8, 10, 13
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
If for a moment you were ever tempted to think that Christianity was a religion for wishy-washy people, today’s readings point to a thoroughly contrary conclusion. It isn’t as though the Jewish people who were listening to Jesus had never heard challenging words before! Our first reading from the Torah has God telling Moses to make sure that everyone knows that they should “be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy…. You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart…. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Jesus will use these words when He “fulfills” the Law and connects these words from Leviticus with the Word of God from Deuteronomy which speak about what it means to love God.
These were the same Jewish people who “heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Reciprocal justice demanded that an appropriate response was to be levied on those who did someone wrong, and while it was good to “love your neighbor,” you could do that while also “hating your enemy.” Everyone can acknowledge the almost ingrained desire to “get even,” to cause suffering for those who have made us suffer. It is for this reason that Jesus’ words in today’s gospel are so challenging.
It might almost seem as though justice is impossible in Jesus’ world, especially when He suggests that one should “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” How many times can you turn the other cheek before enough is enough? But even our first reading from the Book of Leviticus acknowledges the possibility of corrective action when it states: “Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him.” Dealing with wrongdoers is still a possibility, and some of the strongest fraternal correction ever given is given by Jesus and directed at the Scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day. Justice sometimes demands confrontation, so dramatically seen in Jesus’ display of righteous anger in His casting out of the Temple money changers who had turned the Temple into a den of thieves.
Love of God and love of neighbor still demands that we confront injustice when we see it, but that confrontation should not lead us into sin, should not lead us to hate, should not lead us to slander or demean individuals with whom we might not agree. The highly polarized political world we live in has even caused some to be violent towards those they disagree with, or those who are labeled as inferior. Jesus would have us love our “enemies and pray for those who persecute us that we may be children of our Heavenly Father.” What good is it to love those who love us?, Jesus asks. “Do not the tax collectors do the same?” Jesus wants us “to be perfect, just as [y]our Heavenly Father is perfect,” and that perfection is visible in God’s only Son, who took on human flesh that He might show us the way back to the Father. Jesus had plenty of enemies, and those enemies would scourge and crucify Him, yet He forgave them with His very last breath. If we are going to become sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, then we are going to have to love as God loves, a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.” Would that those same words of the psalmist be applied to us. That is what we will spend a lifetime striving for.