LEVITICUS 19:1-2, 17-18 | 1 CORINTHIANS 3:16-23 | MATTHEW 5:38-48
We have what we might consider HUGE commandments for reflection our today. The first sentence of the passage from Leviticus zings us with one big fat commandment, “BE HOLY for I, your God, am holy.” Jesus, piggy-backing on Leviticus, commands: “BE PERFECT, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Holy Moly! Where do we go from here? Holiness isn’t enough? We need to be perfect, too? Let’s not panic. Leviticus wasn’t commanding the impossible, and neither was Jesus. Let’s look a bit more closely at the passages.
The passage from Leviticus ends with the well-known commandment which most Christians attribute to Jesus but he was just quoting Leviticus. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we look closely, we discover that this commandment has a narrow scope. It continues: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.” Holiness is narrowly connected with love of one’s “people.”
Jesus introduces his call to be perfect with a call to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” You may remember, when Jesus quoted this same passage from the book of Leviticus to the “teacher of the law” who asked him what the greatest commandment was, the lawyer immediately came back with a question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then laid the parable of the Good Samaritan on him.
Jesus connects holiness and perfection to
our relationship with one another, our friends and our foes alike. Later on, in that Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that our heavenly Father “makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” He’s teaching us that to begin the journey toward holiness and perfection (our journey to God) our hearts must be open to everyone, people who don’t look like us, that don’t speak our language, that hate us, that want to do us harm, that hurt us and others.
During the weeks of Lent we will direct our reflection to the mystery of Christ – the mystery of death and resurrection. Each of us has been baptized into this mystery. Our commitment to Christ demands that we be holy and perfect as God is holy and perfect.
This Sunday is the last Sunday before we begin Lent, the forty days of personal prayer and contemplation on the mystery of death and resurrection. It’s also our communal time of penance and voluntary fasting. It’s so appropriate that we hear God’s challenge to be holy and perfect this Sunday. Our journey to God is going to take place one loving step at a time, one death and resurrection at a time. Being a Christian is a challenge, but it’s full of wonder and miracles and may God touch our hearts during this holy season. May Easter bring us new life.