January 16, 2018, 10:58 pm
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The measure of perfection

JESUS said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

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Today’s Gospel reading reminds us of the immense goodness of God who pours out his love and blessings on everyone without discrimination. Jesus reveals to us God as a loving Father who makes “his sun to shine on the bad and the good.” Jesus teaches us how to live and act as God’s children. “Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). The heavenly Father is the measure of perfection to which we are called. He teaches us to orient our lives towards the Father. Our good deeds should lead others to glorify the Father (Mt 5:16). There are times, however, when we find ourselves unable to bring out the best in us, in situations which challenge our good intentions, and we realize how far we are from the ideal of Christian life. Yet, the Lord Jesus calls us, “Be perfect,” a call that comes not from a demanding and exacting Master but from the Lord Jesus who says, “Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves” (Mt 11:29).

Jesus himself shows us the way to perfection. He addresses our need to sustain and nourish true, stable, and loving relationships. He teaches us to deal with our anger, confront our selfishness and self-centeredness, and come to grips with our inconsistencies, indecisiveness, and untruth. He then leads us from the way of self-knowledge to the way of greater loving. He tells us to go beyond lex taliones, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” a quid pro quo justice (5:38-39). “To turn the other cheek” as a response to an affront implies the readiness of the disciple to suffer injury rather than aggravate it. Instead of retaliation, Jesus teaches the disciples to be firm in meekness. Jesus’ teaching on non-retaliation is most appropriately addressed to those who are strong, the leaders and those in positions of authority and privilege, who, because of their position, advantage, and resources, can aggravate evil by the force of their retaliation. Jesus calls all his disciples to grow in meekness but his law of non-retaliation is not meant to lead to the oppression of the weak, the lowly, and the meek.

Beyond non-retaliation is generosity expressed in giving more than what is due to someone, doing more for service, giving to one who asks and lending to one who needs (5:40-42). Beyond this generosity and love that can be given to the neighbor is the love of enemies. The perfection to which the disciples of Jesus are called is the perfection of love. What Jesus reveals by his teaching on love is the greatness of the Father’s love. To the extent that we grow in our loving beyond hurts and betrayal, we mature to the perfection of love, a love that Jesus has shown on the cross.

But, how is such love possible? The Second Reading gives us the answer. The Spirit of God dwells in us (1 Cor 4:16). We received the Spirit that enables us to call God “Father” (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). It is the Spirit that helps us to mature in Christ and God-likeness. We are called to develop our constant awareness of our dignity as God’s temple and of the dynamic presence of the Spirit in us so that we can have the strength and the courage to challenge divisiveness and dissensions and foster unity. Because the Spirit dwells in us, we are God’s temple. We are holy because we belong to Christ, we belong to God.

This understanding of holiness echoes the revelation of God to the people of Israel through Moses. “Be holy for I your God am holy” (Lev 19:2). Israel’s call to holiness is based on the covenant God made with them. Israel is called to be a holy people. That holiness consists in obeying the commandments of God, the decalogue and specific instructions that govern Israel’s life as a people. Holiness of life is shown in love and obedience to God and love of neighbor. To be holy as God is holy is to be able to love and forgive. This entails a discipline of the heart that bears not grudge, that desires no revenge, that harbors no hate, that forgives and corrects an erring brother or sister so that the other may grow in love and holiness.

Jesus calls us to be perfect, to be holy as the heavenly Father. The perfection to which we are called is the perfection of love. To love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves. We can love because God first loved us and has poured us his love through the Spirit that has been given to us.

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– Sr. Ma. Anicia Co, RVM

– (Feb. 19. 2017)
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