- The Abbey of the Genesee - http://www.geneseeabbey.org -

February 19, 2017

Fr. John Denburger, OCSO [1]

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Leviticus 19: 1 – 2, 17 – 18: Ps 103; 1 Corinthians 3: 16 – 23:  Matthew 5: 38 – 48

From the moment of our conception we begin a life of relationships. Some  are very commonplace, very casual and some very serious and even sacred. Of course, our most important, serious, joyful, sacred relationship is with the Lord; it is why we gather here today for the Holy Eucharist.

The very first words of the Creed: “I believe in one God” is not only a profession of belief in the reality of God but also a truth that defines our lives. As Christians we try to live each day by this profession or else that profession is just words.

The three Scripture readings for this Mass proclaim the way to live our belief in God. The first from Leviticus is very straightforward: “…do not bear hatred…take no revenge and cherish no grudge…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” What could be clearer than this?

St. Paul calls our attention to the sacredness of each person, yours and mine. “…do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you…for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” This profound truth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is at the heart of living our relationships.

Finally, the passage for St. Matthew, one we know well but, the practice of it is something else. Jesus says, “…offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other as well.” I think most of us say, “Well, yes, but….! Surely, Jesus, you really don’t expect us to do that. I can think of a number of situations where that would condone all sorts of violence, actions of abuse, of murder.” But Jesus’ words stand as spoken and He spoke strongly “But I say to you…”

There is an occasion when Jesus Himself did not turn the other cheek and it is found in the account of His passion. Questioned by the high priest Jesus made his reply and then, one of the guards struck Him. In turn, Jesus did offer resistance in a question to the guard, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” The Lord’s resistance is verbal, not physical but it is still resistance and He did not turn the other cheek. He did the “unexpected”.

The key to understanding Jesus’ admonition of turning the other cheek is found in the other examples He gave – if your tunic is a legal matter, hand over your cloak, too; if you are pressed to do service for one mile, go for two miles; give to the one who asks of you, do not turn your back on the borrower.” Unpleasant, demanding situations arise in life – that’s no revelation to any of us. I believe Jesus is saying, “Be creative, use your ingenuity to turn a situation of any kind into something life-giving rather than destructive. You are called to love, then do it.” So rather than retaliate with harsh words, rather than do or say something that will be regretted, then you might say nothing, or leave in silence, or question calmly, or count to 10 or 100. What it comes down to is this – what can I do or say that will help restore peace or live charity more generously. Sometimes, it means tough love but the emphasis is always on the decision to love.

As I was writing this homily, an experience came to my mind. I was visiting  the grade school where I was stationed. In the first grade I saw a little boy seated at his desk but the desk was right against the blackboard – he was facing it head on.  So I asked the Sister about it. Her answer left no doubt: “He is obnoxious!” The Sister, with 40 or 50 children in her charge (this is the 1960s), could hardly allow the boy to continue to misbehave so she did offer a resistance – she did the unexpected and perhaps, the boy learned something and the other children as well.

Belief in the head is not very demanding whereas living belief in daily life, in our relationships can be and often is. Nowhere in Jesus’ teaching does He even hint that following Him is easy. Someone said that we do not have a tame God, a God we can domesticate according to our likes, our convenience. We can try to water down His word, to decide what we will follow and what we will not. Many, today, are doing just that and still call themselves Christians! It is no tame or domesticated God who says to us: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy!”

The Gospel began with this: “You have heard it was said…But I say to you…” What force do His words, His teaching have in my, your life…really?