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SEVENTH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2020

The application of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” seems from our perspective as excessive and barbaric. As often occurs when we attempt to overlay our culture on a previous one, we are repulsed by the actions considered acceptable in the past. Before Christ, the words, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” was the common practice of people.
In ancient times, retaliatory damage and destruction were commonplace. An entire family or nation could be killed in retribution for a slap across the cheek. At that time, the only form of defensive was to use revenge to protect oneself and family. Therefore, God designated a limit acts of retaliation to prevent the repeated, vengeful decimation of people.
God controlled the vengeful rage of humans by identifying boundaries when one attacked in retribution. Therefore, if an opponent caused one to lose an eye or a tooth, the maximum permissible vengeance was limited to the taking of an eye or a tooth as compensation. God’s intent was the prevention of a vendetta, the escalation of revenge.
Jesus introduces an entirely new perspective when he says, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus, with these words, calls all of his followers to walk away from acts of revenge. Even today, for us to deny the feelings to avenge a wrong is difficult. We want our pound of flesh as compensation for those who cause us harm.
Jesus asks us to realign our thinking, not to satisfy our desires, but to focus on the needs of others. Jesus is calling for us to live to seek justice, not revenge. Justice, from the Christian perspective, is acting not for our benefit but others. Some people are desperately pleading for adequate food, clothing, and shelter. The failure for us to intervene for those in need is a haunting reminder that it was human injustice and vengeance that nailed Jesus to the Cross.
Exposing injustice and avoiding revenge is not easy for human beings to learn since personal desires tend to be a priority. Jesus provides some challenging ways for us to observe justice and control revenge. He suggests that a slap across the cheek not be met with violence, but turning one’s head to accept a slap from the other side. Not responding as expected causes the attacker to reevaluate the threat of intimidation. If someone arrogantly attempts to take one’s belongings, what can be more disruptive than to give up more than demanded? If forced to walk a mile, the oppressor loses control when one walks an extra mile without complaint. These actions seem foreign and self-demeaning. The fear of pain and humiliation become foremost in our minds when we encounter injustice and the desire for revenge.
Jesus did not preach these words expecting us to follow them blindly. He lived these words most noticeably during his Passion. The Roman soldiers slapping Jesus across the face only caused him to turn his head and accept many more blows. Jesus was stripped of his clothing, yet he did not resist that humiliation as the soldiers mocked him for being a king. Jesus’ struggled up the hill to Calvary in the same way. When he showed physical weakness by falling, the jeers from the crowd and solider’s beatings were ineffective in causing him to utter a single word. Because he did not cry out in pain, because he did not curse them or threaten them, the enjoyment that the soldiers expected from their cruelty evaporated.
Dramatically in Jesus’ Passion, we observe the effects of injustice. An innocent man falsely accused a criminal and punished for the sins of others. We cry out, “Where was the justice for Jesus?” Jesus could very well respond to us with the question, “How often have you walked away from those in need? Where is the justice for them?”
Jesus does not ask in vengeance God to strike these people down that mutilated his body with whips, fists and nails. He asked rather that they be forgiven for their actions. Jesus would not subscribe to “an eye for an eye or a tooth for tooth.” Instead, he showed the effects of injustice and revenge for the world for all to see.
We do not see any fear in Jesus during his Passion and Death. “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more,” (Luke 12:4.) The Roman soldiers could cause physical pain to his body, they could murder him, but they could not destroy the relationship Jesus had with his Father. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.”
Jesus was perfect in his love for all people, whether they looked upon him with love or hatred. Jesus is asking us to stretch our faith to reach out beyond the limits in our comfort. He asks us to put our faith in him, for he gives us mercy and love even as we face the pain of physical death.
Jesus asks us to strive toward perfection, using love to guide us while avoiding revenge and injustice. While we recognize that we will often fail, Jesus forgives our missteps through the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our continued prayers of intercession to the Lord will give us the strength to embrace the love of Christ in our daily acts.

SIXTH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2020

Eye has not seen, ear has not heard,
And what has not entered the human heart,
What God has prepared for those who love him.

These words from First Corinthians lead one to realize that the advances in human knowledge are not quite as eventful as we profess. Even with our accumulation knowledge, we cannot see what God envisions for us in our lives nor do we hear all his words when he calls. We think that we can express the meaning of love until we step back and see the immensity of God’s love for each of us. That love is of such depths that he directed his Son to sacrifice his life for us freeing us from eternal death.

In the secular world of today, many dismiss these words from First Corinthians and the Bible in its entirety as a set of fanciful stories that has its origins with the Jewish people, a misinformed group of people who did not have the understanding how the world works. We see ourselves as innovative as we accumulate and apply the wisdom of the ages. We look back into human history, proudly report on the insights of individuals such as philosophers and scientists that have shaped our perspectives of knowledge and human existence. We can provide examples of our capabilities like the electron microscope that images structures inimaginable minuscule as the components of an atom. We can exclaim our ability to send humans to the moon and the development of spacecraft that traveled beyond our solar system relay images back to us of other stars and planets.

Yet, when we compare our meager accomplishments to those of God’s in creating the world, we are unable to take the first step as in a baby beginning to walk. We cannot even stand alone without God’s hand there to keep us steady. We are as dependent on God as an infant is on its parents. When we try to go it alone in the world, in an instant, we fall to the floor crying for help calling on God to make everything right.

As humans, this reliance on God is difficult for us to accept because, in His infinite love, he gave us the ability to reason and then choose the course of our lives. We often do not make the right choice and sin. We, at times, act like a toddler in his or her “terrible twos,” demanding what we think will satisfy us and then having a temper tantrum when our desires fail to materialize. With our resistance to accepting what is good for us, we need God’s guidance to assure that we do not remain the spoiled child with unacceptable behaviors.

God, recognizing that people needed rules, to corral our sinful thoughts and actions, established the Ten Commandments, the Law of Moses. Even though Moses received these tablets of stone many thousands of years ago, the value of God’s wisdom in relationships has lasted through the ages. These ten simple directives focused on giving respect to God and each other.

Unfortunately, the Bible reports that the Jews continued to violate the Ten Commandments. Instead of redoubling their efforts to realigning their attitudes and desires to conform to God’s instructions, Jewish leaders sought to reinterpret the Law by adding specifications and identify punishments for the wrongdoers to correct human beings’ tendencies to sin. The Pharisees believed that through more stringent regulations, they could sanctify the people of God.

The Jewish leaders had become so entranced in following the letter of the Law with absolute precision and that they lost sight of the meaning of the law. God intended to express his love for all people by curtailing the indignities that one does to another with the identification of the Commandments. If humans followed the intent of the Commandments, instead of finding loopholes, there would be no need for any other laws. The message of the Commandments is clear – Love God and your neighbor, with no exceptions at any time.

Jesus comes to fulfill the intent of the Commandments. He has no plans to wipe away God’s establishment of the Ten Commandments. Jesus tells us in depths of your heart, love God and those around you. These simple relationships remain as valid as when God wrote them on the stone with his finger.

Jesus’ actions of performing miracles on the Sabbath, driving the moneychangers out of the Temple and identifying himself as the Son of God conveys his love for his Father and the needy, not retribution for sin. In his words of forgiveness and his deeds mercy, Jesus threatens the established religion of the Pharisees. His loving actions provoke hostile a response from the Jewish leaders. The Pharisees see these actions only as breaches of Jewish law that ultimately lead to his death on the Cross.

In the eyes of the Pharisees, one must live by the letter of the Law to prevent God’s punishing wrath coming down in retribution for violating the Law. Jesus does not threaten sinners with the fires of Hell. Instead, he pleads for us to reconcile our lives by an interior examination of our relationship with God and others. As we identify our faults, we can with confidence turn to the Lord asking for forgiveness and assistance in avoiding sin because of Jesus’ message of love.

Jesus says the cause for our sin results from prioritizing personal attitudes and desires over what pleasing to God. Our sinfulness comes from a failure to listen to our hearts by not accepting the love God has for us. Sin will grow in us unless we root it out by the prayerfully receiving the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. One does not murder without first developing the passion of hatred. One does not perjure his statement without first considering what possible advantage he or she may have in lying. The rage that leads one to purposefully physically harm another does not appear out of thin air. Instead, anger spiraling upwards overcomes reason.

As a loving God, he will be merciful with those who seek his forgiveness. While we cannot avoid sin, God notices our attempts to change by our prayer life and the good deeds that we do in His name. If our life’s goal is not to seek out heaven, then our only alternative becomes Hell. Jesus wants us to enter heaven, but if we are determined to focus only on our earthly desires, then there will no hope of being with God in His Kingdom.

Jesus’ love for each of us is so tremendous that he became man, suffered and died on the Cross and was resurrected to show us the way to his Kingdom. We too suffer here on earth from our first breath at birth to the last breath exhaled at our death. Jesus was guaranteed life after death because he never wavered from the love for his Father and each of us. We too have that same opportunity to respond to Christ’s words and alter our lives for the good. We as humans have often failed to maintain our responsibilities to God and each other, as the Commandments require. Regardless God has not wavered in his love for us. Jesus promises heaven if we love God and our neighbor with our whole being.


Eye has not seen, ear has not heard,
And what has not entered the human heart,
What God has prepared for those who love him.



 

FIFTH SUNDAY, ORDINARY TIME, 2020

In our lives, we take the availability of salt and light for granted. If we need to enhance the flavor, we only need to extend our hand out to the saltshaker and out pours pure, white salt that satisfies our taste desires. There is that the same ease in which we access a light. We only need to turn on a light switch or use a flashlight, and we have more than enough light to guide us in our activities at night. In the time of Jesus, salt and light were commodities that everyone viewed as being highly prized. However, in Jesus’ time, light and salt were not necessarily within a hand’s reach.
The limited access to salt in Jesus’ time made it a valuable commodity. In fact, a measure of salt was a welcome portion of wages for the Roman soldier. Then as now, the need for salt comes from its ability to enhance the flavor of a meal. As we know, eating a meal without the flavoring of at least salt, leaves our taste buds dissatisfied. The ancients also knew, rubbing salt into meat and some fruits allowed for a longer storage time. Thus, the absence of salt from a home was a serious concern.
The people of Jesus’ time depended on the sun to provide light during the day. At night, however, the family needed to rely on a flicking firelight or the feeble light of an olive oil lamp. Without the lamplight, one would be reduced to sitting in the dark, unable to perform the necessary evening tasks.
So why would Jesus associate his disciples with the light from a lamp and as the salt of the earth? He doesn’t compare his disciples to gold or jewels, those things of apparent greater wealth. These ornaments, indicating prosperity, were hardly necessary for anyone’s daily existence. Regardless of one’s status, rich and poor, all need salt and light just as we all need access to Jesus’ promise of salvation.
Jesus is expressing the need for the disciples to be the essential commodity in a world that has lost perspective of what is valuable. He directs them to enhance the desired flavors available for the world by showing that there is an alternative to sin and death. The disciples are to be the salt that prevented the putrefaction of lives that comes from placing earthly desires above seeking the promises of Christ. The disciples, through their deeds, bring the zest of Christ’s teaching to all people the hope for salvation. Their examples of leading lives in holiness promote a savoring for the Kingdom of God above all other flavors.
Through Jesus, “the Light of the World,” he brings meaning and enlightenment to all people. Like the moon who gets its light from the sun, the disciples use Christ’s light as their source of illumination to dispel the darkness of sin and ignorance in their teaching and preaching. Jesus asks his disciples to work at his side to bring the truth to all the corners of the earth. More just using words, Jesus invites the disciples to lead lives that imitate his love and mercy, to be the light on the hill that guides others to holiness.
In this expression of the potentiality of the disciples, Jesus also cautions them not to become complacent or full of themselves. They cannot be inactive in their missionary work, allowing their potency to diminish like salt that has gone bad or hiding lamp under a basket. One might how can salt lose its flavor or hindering the purpose of a lamp as Jesus describes?
The salt of Jesus’ time was collected along a seashore or picked away from rocky outcroppings without any ability to separate the sodium chloride (the salt) from other impurities. If salt with its impurities were allowed to get wet, the sodium chloride portion would dissolve and leach away, leaving a material that was white in appearance but was not appealing to the taste. Therefore, the salt went bad and became useless.
This residue ended up on the streets where it was trodden on underfoot to prevent contamination of arable land. Jesus indicates that those who received the faith but only in name fail to share his grace and have no purpose in the Kingdom. Those who have turned away from Christ’s teaching have become as useless as salt that has gone bad. They are like salt which has lost its flavor.
No one would consider lighting a lamp and then not using the light to enlighten a room. Christ’s light is meant to illuminate the world. His disciples are to demonstrate the quality of his light by allowing it to shine in every remote area of the world, bringing hope to all people. It is the words and deeds of those who follow Christ that place a beacon on the hill for all to seek the security of heaven.
We are Jesus’ modern-day disciples. Jesus sees us as the salt of the earth and as a lamp on a stand shining out in the darkness. Just as with the disciples of nearly two thousand years ago, our lifestyle has a dramatic effect on those who search for the truth. We, the salt of the earth, are unwavering in our desire to taste the promise and heaven and preserve the way of Christ in our lives. Actions, more than words, give us the tools to be salt that flavors the earth with Christ’s message and the light shining on the hill that promises everlasting hope.
Talking about holiness lacks the same emphasis as living holy lives. Isaiah, in today’s first reading, describes the lives that disciples of Christ lead, to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, cloth the naked. We are those noble people, the salt of the earth, the ones who step forward, taking action in the time of disasters, not to shine our own light, but to reflect Christ’s light through our love for God and neighbor.

 

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