Homily for 20 February 2011 – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

Leviticus: 19:1-2, 17-18; I Corinthians 3:16-23; Psalm 103; Matthew 5:38-48

What does it mean to “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”? What does it mean to “be perfected as your heavenly Father is perfect.”? Is it even possible? On our own, by our own power, through our own strength and will – No. In Christ – Yes. But we need to understand what it means, what it all means. To be holy, to be perfect, is not the same thing as being good, following the rules, being legalistic and self-righteous. You can spend your entire life obeying all the rules, never doing anything wrong and still not be either perfect, holy, or any fun to be around. If we want to be like God, then we have to ask, “What is God like?” We have some clues to this in our lessons. In Leviticus, after saying “Be holy” the Lord says, “You shall not bear hatred in your heart…Take no revenge and cherish no grudge…love your neighbor as yourself.” In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Our Lord says, “Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors,” and then says “In a word, you must be perfected…” Our Lord also says we must turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give to those who ask. So to be like God, we must love like God – generously, kindly, unconditionally, sacrificially, mercifully.

This kind of love is only possible if we are in Christ, if the love that we are expressing in thought, word and deed is God’s love flowing through us. St. Paul says in our second lesson, “Are you not aware that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?... For the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple.” The “you” here, while not clear in the English translation, is plural – St. Paul is referring to the Church, the Body of Christ, as the temple of God and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. It is in this context, as members of Christ’s Body, that we can be perfected and holy, and, I believe, only here. Only in an ongoing, committed, growing, sacramental relationship with God and God’s people can we become what we are called to be – loving, holy, perfect.

Our Lord once said that his flesh is real food and his blood real drink, if we want to be healthy, whole and holy we must be willing to give up the junk food of sin and disordered passions, not in a legalistic, white-knuckled, “I’m on a diet” way, but as a whole-hearted response to God’s love and mercy. If we allow ourselves to fill up on Christ’s love and presence in the sacraments, in worship, in prayer, in fellowship with our brothers and sisters, we will be less likely to indulge in the emptiness of sin.

When we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, we sometimes think, “Well, I don’t know if I love myself, I’m pretty bad, so how can I love my neighbor?” This is not seeing it the right way, we are not to love our neighbor in the same way as we love ourselves, but as if they were ourselves. However down we may be on ourselves, we usually know how we would like other people to treat us, speak to us, respond to us, relate to us. That is what we are called to do, to love others the way we would want to be loved. With kindness, patience, understanding, gentleness, friendship, a smile, a pat on the back, a helping hand, a shoulder to lean on, laughter and a sharing of the heart and spirit.

Is this wise as the world measures wisdom? No. Will we not get hurt? Yes. But remember what St. Paul said about the world’s wisdom, “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.” To be holy, to be perfect, to love extravagantly, with no thought to self or gain is foolishness to this world – so I will be a fool – I will be in the best company.

Our life here is so short and eternity is so long, that it is true foolishness to spend both in anger, resentment, bitterness and self-involvement. Choose another way, choose to be holy, to be perfected, choose love.

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