– 19– 02 – 2023 –
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary time
Day of Prayer for Temperance
Gospel reading: Matthew 5:38-48
vs.38 Jesus said to his disciples:
‘You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.
vs.39 But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well;
vs.40 if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
vs.41 And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him.
vs.42 Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.
vs.43 You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy.
vs.44 But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you;
vs.45 in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes the sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike.
vs.46 For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not?
vs.47 And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not?
vs.48 You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
We have four sets of homily notes to choose from.
Please scroll down the page.
Michel DeVerteuil : A Holy Spirit Priest, Specialist in Lectio Divina
Thomas O’Loughlin: Prof of Historical Theology, Uni. of Nottingham.
John Littleton: Director of the Priory Institute, Tallaght
Donal Neary SJ: Editor of The Sacred Heart Messenger *******************************************************
Michel de Verteuil
Lectio Divina with the Sunday Gospels – Year A
As always, it is important for us to stay with the words of the text we are given. In this passage Jesus tells his disciples that they must be guided entirely by him and by his message, not by what is said in the culture at large. Jesus was aware of the problems of his followers. Some of these were personal, others were more general; others again were general defects of the culture. We too, in our time, must be aware of this as we make choices and decisions day by day.
Jesus starts with two sayings, or teachings – something that was “said to our ancestors”. Both are well known to us: “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth” and “You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy”.
Jesus never wished to teach against the Old Testament. It is a point he makes quite clearly earlier in this sermon. “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets”, he said. “I have not come to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke shall disappear until its purpose is achieved”.
What Jesus was against was the fact that some people were misusing the law. He was anxious to change this for something better. He did not want “to abolish” the law but merely to “complete it” and he showed how his own interpretations would in fact “complete” the law.
Let us look first at verses 38 to 42.
Jesus wants us first of all to reject the false notion that we must relate to others only as they treat us. This would go against what he taught us by words and by example.
He gives us some positive teachings on three situations:
“Offer the wicked man no resistance.
If one hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other.
If someone takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
If someone orders you to go one mile, go two.
Give to anyone who asks and if anyone want to borrow do not turn away”.
These are clearly difficult passages to interpret. We must however continue looking at them over and over again until they begin to make some sense to us. We must not stop our work until this comes to be true, to happen to us also.
To understand what this section means, we must therefore try and find out what is in the mind of the person who hates us. There are two answers we can think of.
– The first is that the person does not like us. There are things in us that he prefers not to see.
– It could also be that he likes us and there are things in us that he likes and admires but he cannot say why or how.
There must be a reason for it and it is up to us to find it. The question is what does he want, what is deep in his heart, what is his general attitude?
We then turn to the second half of the passage – verses 43 to 48.
Jesus starts off by saying that we need to go against the old commandment that we know and love. “You have learnt how it was said”, the statement said, “you must love your neighbour and hate your enemy”.
He gives three positive teachings to show how we can go against this.
The First is to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. In this way “we will be sons and daughters of our Father in heaven”. The reason is obvious. He is kind to both people:
“The sun rises on bad as well as good,” “His rain falls on all alike.”
Secondly he goes on to ask the question. “If you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even tax collectors do as much, do they not? What about greetings for your brothers and sisters? Even the pagans do as much, do they not?”
Jesus’ own conclusion is there, clearly stated. “Be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect”. God does not link his gifts to how people feel about him. So too we must do the same to one another.
“Walk the dark ways of faith and you will attain the vision of faith.” ...St Augustine.
Lord, we thank you for the great teachings which Jesus left us in this passage. They are in many ways opposed to what we hear all round us and deep down we know they are true.
“Not all are called to be hermits but all need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of our true self to be heard at least occasionally.” …Thomas Merton
Lord, teach us therefore to offer the wicked people we meet no resistance.
Remind us that when someone strikes us on one cheek
we need to ask the reason why they did it,
and we may find then we can offer them the other as well.
If they take us to court and would have our tunic we wonder why and then, if it is necessary, we can let them have our cloak as well.
If they order us to go one mile, we need to go through the matter ourselves and then we may find that we can go two miles with them.
Help us Lord, that we may give to anyone who wants to borrow and not turn them away.
“The essence of prayer is to be established in the remembrance of God and walk in his presence.” ...Theophane, the Recluse
Lord, help us to strive for perfection,
knowing that our heavenly Father is perfect.
Remind us that this really is the same as loving our neighbour
and praying for those who persecute us,
so that we can be truly sons and daughters of our Father in heaven,
he who causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good,
and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest alike.
Lord, if we love those who love us, what right have we to claim any credit,
even the tax collectors do as much do they not.
And if we save our greetings for our brothers are we doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not?
Liturgical Resources for the Year of Matthew
Introduction to the Celebration
Friends in Christ, we — as the community of the baptised — are called by God to provide the world with an example of a different way of living life. Around us we hear every day of people waging war or getting ready to wage war or waging war to make peace or waging war to prevent war. We often hear the same language in our businesses and in our workplaces. The motto seems to be: grab, grasp, exploit.
But we are called to wage peace. We are called not just to be peaceful, but to actively work in a way that builds up peace, honesty, respect for others and the creation.
To say we are Christians is to say that we have volunteered to wage peace in our homes, in our work, and in our world.
1. This gospel provokes a curious range of reactions.
2. There are many who would be prepared to lose their lives as martyrs for some aspect of the doctrinal content of Christianity, or a particular version of it, but who consider this call to break with the world’s way of power to be simply rubbish. In short, Jesus may be the divine Son of God as the creed professes, but this stuff about ‘loving enemies’ just has to be ignored.
3. Politicians have made a habit in recent years about’ going the extra mile for peace’ (how many people realise that the image is derived from this gospel?) and congratulate themselves that they are doing this; but they do so only in that they delay the threat of war!
To go the extra mile for peace means foregoing the war option altogether, not simply giving an extension to an ultimatum. Yet many such politicians often wear their Christianity very publicly.
4. During the First World War chaplains with the British Army were ordered to provide extra services for troops as they were recognised as helping to build morale. However, they were forbidden to use New Testament passages such as this in the services lest it would undermine the will to fight and retaliate. But these were seen as Christian services nonetheless. It seems you can take Jesus, but skip this bit of the message.
5. Many people say that they cannot accept Christianity because they cannot ‘take the divinity of Christ’ or they cannot believe the gospel because’ they cannot take the miracle stories‘ or they cannot accept the church because of this or that doctrine which they find ‘repugnant,’ and in each case these may be deeply felt and held difficulties. However, there are far fewer who find this vision of Christian behaviour to be their stumbling block – yet it is as much part of the gospel as any other teaching.
6. This gospel reminds us that some set of moral guidelines, but a wholly different view of the world. The call to conversion is to change our whole way of viewing life, not just to add or alter a few attitudes on this or that.
7. Peace, a world of peace, seems often to be a distant illusion, an impossible dream. But peace is not some state that just happens: it has to be established.
We know that wars have to be waged, vendettas have to be pursued, acts of retaliation have to be inflicted and prosecuted. These are all active verbs: waging war. And in every case there is a massive investment of resources: human and material.
But peace also needs investment of time, energy, emotions, money, skills. If you want peace, justice, development, reconciliation; then these campaigns have to be waged and actively prosecuted. Whatever world we build, a world of warfare and conflict or a world of development and reconciliation, it is going to cost us. It is one’s vision of the whole creation that decides which is the correct choice.
8. Here is a little slogan:
Christians are called to wage peace with as much energy as others wage war.
Journeying through the Year of Matthew
We all like our friends and we want to remember their birthdays and other special occasions. If they need our help, we are glad to be able to lend a hand, offer a listening ear, share our time or give some useful advice.
In contrast, we are not quite so kind to the people we dislike. If we really dislike them, to the point of hatred, then we may be tempted to treat them unjustly or, at least, damage their character by slandering them and gossiping about them. For Christians, this type of behaviour is unthinkable, precisely because Jesus explicitly forbade it.
During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded his audience about the Old Law before taking them forward to the perfection of the New Law:
‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy.
But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Mt 5:43-44).
This perfection was always to be found in the Law of God although, until the coming of Christ, it was not properly understood by the Chosen People. But Jesus made it explicit. There could no longer be any mistaking the law of charity.
If people wanted to follow Christ, they were required to love their enemies.
Jesus gave some practical examples of the love of enemies in action: ‘If anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well’ (Mt 5:39). Crucially, Jesus taught why he wanted his disciples to love their enemies: ‘For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not?’ (Mt 5:46).
According to Jesus, this is not sufficient. If we are kind to our friends and hate our enemies, or even if, not hating them, we refuse to be charitable towards them, we are doing no more than the pagans do. There is no merit in that. If we want to please God, then we are obliged to do more. We are challenged by the gospel to behave decently towards those to whom we are not naturally attracted. In short, we must love our enemies.
This teaching, which is unique to Christianity, is a reflection of God’s perfection. We know this because Jesus concluded this part of his sermon by exhorting his listeners to ‘be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt 5:48).
When we next receive a request for help, or when our opinion is sought from a neighbour or work colleague to whom we are not naturally drawn, let us remember Jesus’ exhortation and respond with kindness and generosity. There is always someone, in every social context, who is not popular, or who is difficult and unattractive. It is to these people that we are asked to respond in true charity with a kind word, a small gift, perhaps, or an offer of friendship. That will reflect, somewhat, the perfection of God in a world full of selfishness and conflict.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Mt5:44)
Donal Neary SJ:
Gospel Reflections for Sundays of Year A: Matthew
Give good to an enemy
This is quite a tough gospel. We sometimes like to get our own back. We know the desire for vengeance in family and other groups, and in national groupings. The ‘eye for an eye’ brings no peace, at best just a quiet lull in violence.
We know the opposite. People see the enemy walking the street and know that the only way forward is to make peace. This may not mean forgiveness immediately. Some can find a way forward only gradually. The forgiveness of the gospel is a slow journey. We have small hurts and have ways of dealing, with them. But the big ones are there too – maybe someone getting a job over someone else dishonestly, being abused, family being mocked, bullying. Healing, freedom and forgiveness takes time.
We need to understand our own vengeance and at times forgive ourselves for it. The love of God is the love that helps us love the self in the normal hurts and grievances of life. The love of God is a grace, filling that space in us that is open to love – the grace of loving self and others.
To be perfect is to become like God in compassion and in love. This is a wonderful vision for ourselves, our church and our world. It is the dream of God that all God’s children live in love, peace and justice.
Prayer helps … can you bring someone to God – to the cross?
Pray with someone at the cross; it makes a difference.
Lord, help me to forgive and, when I cannot,
to be patient with myself as you are with me.