7th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A (Mt 5:38-48)

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke describe two differing versions of what Jesus taught; similar but different. Luke covers these lessons in chapter 6, within what is described as the Sermon on the Plain, while Matthew’s version, entitled The Sermon on the Mount, is contained in three, chapters 5, 6, and 7.

The light of the world

The light of the world

What Jesus taught, regardless of whose Gospel you read, presents us today with enormous challenges, both in their understanding and in their acceptance. Following Jesus is never easy but it can be especially difficult when confronted with the realities of living in a modern secular society. We should not be surprised then that what Jesus told his disciples two-thousand years ago is even more relevant for us today.

The world that we live in is often harsh and uncaring; we know more about our world while knowing little about our neighbor. Global communications provides us with the latest medal count at the Olympics half-way around the world, even while those in need lie cold and hungry, ignored and unknown, just a few blocks from home.

It is somewhat ironic that in an age of instant and constant communication, with all of the technological marvels available to us, that so many know so little, and so much of what is known is of little consequence or is simply incorrect.

There is far too little love and way, way too much hate.

So admittedly, we live in an imperfect world, in a less than perfect age and when we hear Jesus tell us “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Mt 5:48] we roll our eyes and shake our heads and dismiss the thought as ludicrous and the height of insanity.

But as usual, we find ourselves missing the mark, for God is in the details. We read “be perfect” knowing full well that perfection can never be attained, yet without ever making any effort to delve deeper into what Jesus really meant. The Hebrew word for ‘perfect’ is ‘tamim’ while the Aramaic equivalent is ‘t’mim’ and both describe a sense of ‘completeness’ or ‘wholeness — not lacking in what is essential.

What Jesus is telling us is that God has given us all the gifts that we need. In God’s eyes we are whole and complete and no matter who we are, we have all that is essential for us to “be perfect.” And to “be perfect” is really, really simple.  All we have to do is place our faith in God, follow his commandments, “… love our neighbor as ourself” [Lev 19:18], and pay attention to the details.

It is a common human tendency to make mountains out of molehills, to take great offense at the most insignificant slight or insult, to respond in kind to any perceived injury. It is as old as humanity itself. We find it in the book of Exodus “… if injury ensues, you shall give life for life, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” [Ex 21:23-25].

But Jesus tells us that there is a greater law which we are to follow, the law of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love. We immediately think of the big things, things like war, genocide, torture, and murder, but it is in the small, everyday things that we too often ignore and forget.

Turning the other cheek can be as simple as smiling and saying “you’re welcome” when a driver cuts you off in traffic. Turning the other cheek can mean refusing to engage in gossip or a denigrating conversation about another. Turning the other cheek can mean accepting another’s point of view even when you disagree.

Handing over your cloak doesn’t mean that you must walk around naked. But when you are warm, never forget the ones who are cold. Give what you can; warm their hearts and their bodies with compassion, generosity, and love. If your neighbor is sick or injured, bring them food or offer to drive them somewhere. If someone is alone, give them the gift of your presence and time.

Perhaps the most difficult for us to accept is our Lord’s command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, …” [Mt 5:44]. Immediately, we conjure up images of those who have committed the vilest and most evil acts against humanity, infamous characters such as Hitler, Osama bin Laden, or Stalin and we protest. We cry out with great anguish that there is simply no way for us to love such evil.

But Jesus doesn’t tell us to love evil. He tells us to love our enemies, for each is as much a child of God as you or I. Anyone who has ever committed an evil act was once a child, conceived in the womb, whose future was unknown.

And what do we see when we hold an infant and look into his or her eyes? Do we see the face of evil? No, we see what God sees, a holy innocent, a child, created by God. We cannot help but love them. It is no different with those who commit evil acts. For we must love each and every child of God while rejecting any evil acts that they might commit. Loving our enemies serves to remind us that we are all connected in our shared humanity and by the bonds we share, forged by our Creator.

Hildegard of Bingen, a ninth century Benedictine abbess wrote “God has gifted creation with everything that is necessary … Nothing that is necessary for life is lacking.” She clearly understood what Jesus was telling us when he said to “be perfect.” God has given us the gift of life and within that gift is “everything that is necessary.” It really is that simple – it really is.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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