Mass for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2023 and the Memorial Mass for St Josephine Bakhita at St Patrick’s Church, Mary, Queen of the Family Parish, Blacktown
Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18; Psalm 102(103):1-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
Dear sisters and brothers,
A few years ago, I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for the first time. One of the most memorable moments I experienced during this trip was an encounter with a group called Parents Circle Family Forum. It was established to allow those who have lost their loved ones in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to share their personal stories of bereavement and to engage in dialogue instead of revenge. It was truly inspiring to meet people who, despite their immense suffering, refuse to be drawn into the spiral of violence and walk with victims on the other side in the journey from pain to hope. Their struggle to seek reconciliation with respect, dignity and integrity is a source of inspiration for the whole world.
Today’s scripture equips us for such a journey. It contains the central teaching of Jesus on the standards of behaviour expected of his followers. It not only sets them against the ruthless, competitive, inhumane, survival-of-the-fittest mindset of the Roman Empire. It also challenges them to go beyond the old Mosaic law that stops short of loving their enemies and going the extra mile with those indebted to them. Jesus’ moral imperatives stretch the limits of our capacity to love in the way that mirrors the boundless mercy of God himself.
In the first reading, Moses instructs the people as they journey towards the Promise Land. After the enemies had been routed, they enjoyed a period of peace, stability and prosperity. There was a real temptation, however, to focus on their immediate concerns and forget what they were meant to be: the people of God in mission. Moses reminds them of the covenant and the mission of living out and witnessing to the call to holiness. “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. You must not bear hatred for your brother/sister in your heart. You must love your neighbour as yourself”. The people were meant to manifest the holiness of God in their relationships and behaviour.
In the last few Sundays, we have been treated with the unique and authoritative teachings of Jesus. He has drawn a sharp distinction between himself and the Pharisees, both in style and substance. For example, holiness for him has to do with integrity, love and service, rather than a mere observance of rituals that draw attention to one’s status and self-importance. He has challenged his disciples to go beyond the letter of the law, beyond the minimum requirements to a life fully lived with authenticity, humility and self-giving love.
In today’s episode, Jesus teaches us an alternative moral code that respects life and seeks to transform our enemies into our friends. “You have learnt how it was said: eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: Offer the wicked man no resistance”. This and similar commands like “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” seem unrealistic in the age of terrorism and unprovoked aggression. Yet disarming violence with non-violence and especially by benevolence is precisely the fundamental ethics of the kingdom. It is at the core of Jesus’ teaching and, therefore, the core of Christian discipleship. We can do so on the basis of knowing ourselves to be enriched by the divine generosity and, therefore, to act with such generosity towards others is not impossible.
Turning the other cheek, giving the last piece of our garments or going the extra mile are not submission to violence or surrender to aggression. These are metaphors for a kind of resistance that breaks the cycle of violence. Jesus offers a non-violent form of resistance that allows the people to keep their humanity and dignity while not cooperating with the various systems of domination that demean, devalue and discard them. We can turn the other cheek and still have dignity. We can still go the extra mile and keep intact our humanity, so that the world can become a better place and our adversaries can change positively.
Dear brothers and sisters,
We live in a world where violence which is directed against an enemy can become a solution during times of crisis. History of conflicts including those with their roots in Christendom has shown that we are all vulnerable to violence. Jesus, by contrast, presents a new model of solidarity – not violence and destruction – that will ultimately open up a space to enable change and address the roots of social crises. His death and resurrection mean that God has reset the cycle of human behaviour. It has enabled us to build a new future with the very people whom we regard as outsiders and enemies. We must follow his example in forging common bonds of humanity in the face of fear. We must be a community of hospitality, compassion and neighbourliness that serves as reminder to what our nation can be and should be.
In these troubled times, when evil forces seek to divide us on the basis of race, colour, ethnicity or religion, may we remain united in heart and mind and resolve. May faith bind us in human solidarity, hope drive out fear, and love overcome hatred. May we follow Jesus who shows us the way of disarming hatred with love, evil with goodness, violence with benevolence, indifference with compassion.
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