7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
"Love your enemies."
Entrance Antiphon: Ps 13(12):6 — “O Lord, I trust in Your merciful love. My heart will rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord who has been bountiful with me.”
First Reading: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18 — “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13 — “The Lord is kind and merciful.”
Second Reading: 1 Cor 3:16-23 — “All things belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.”
Alleluia: 1 Jn 2:5 — “Alleluia, alleluia. Whoever keeps the word of Christ, the love of God is truly perfected in him. Alleluia, alleluia.”
Gospel: Mt 5:38-48 — “Love your enemies.”
Communion Antiphon: Ps 9:2-3: — “I will recount all Your wonders, I will rejoice in You and be glad, and sing songs to Your name, O Most High.”
Debuting in 1966 and running through the 1973 season ... thirty years before the Tom Cruise movies of the same name ... there was a television series called Mission Impossible. The series was based on an Impossible Missions force. They were a team of specially trained secret American Government agents who were given a seemingly impossible task to accomplish each week. One of the hallmarks of the show was how the team received its mission. A tape-recorded message was left in a secret hiding place. The leader of the team played the message and received information and instructions about the mission. At the end of the recording, were these final words: “This is your mission, Mr. Phelps, should you and your IMF team decide to accept it. This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds.”
If you missed the first two minutes of the show, you had no idea what the mission was or what the show was all about.
Fast forward to 2020. If we were truly attentive to the Scripture readings during the Liturgy of the Word, it may seem that this Sunday’s readings present us with our own “Mission Impossible.”
The First Reading calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” That’s difficult enough … but it’s the Old Testament, right? … we don’t need to pay attention to the Old Testament, right? But then in the Gospel, Jesus comes right back at us and commands us to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us ... to be perfect ... as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Many Scripture scholars have called this command the core message of the Gospel. Many of us have a hard time accepting it even in theory, let alone putting it into practice.
How can we mere humans rise to such heights of love and forgiveness? Well consider the following. How did the late Pope John Paul II forgive Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who tried to kill him? How did the Amish families forgive Charles Carl Roberts, IV, the man who shot their innocent children while they were in school in Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania?
When we first hear the command, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy,”what does mean to you? In the Responsorial Psalm, we sing that the “Lord is kind and merciful.” Saint Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians reminds us that we are temples of the Holy Spirit and if we destroy God’s temple, God will destroy that person. Think about it. Saint Paul isn’t only referring to the physical destruction. We destroy God’s temple by how we treat one another and what we say to one another, or what we say about someone behind their back. It isn’t just physical destruction, it’s psychological destruction as well. But then, Jesus once for all reinforces it all … love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. His command to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” perhaps is overwhelming … and maybe just too much for us to understand.
How are we ... a society bent on revenge ... the me-first generation and as a society-at-large, the ones who try and follow the path of least resistance and who only do only the bare minimum ... how are we going to live out these words?
Simple ... Jesus is trying to teach us to live and act in a different way. We are to love as God has loved us first ... to become holy as God is holy ... and even to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
To live and act as Jesus does toward our fellow human beings takes quite a bit of readjusting ... We must change the way we think ... We must learn to avoid our first instinct to strike out with hand or our words against one another.
Maybe this is a very difficult concept to put into practice especially against those who do not always think as we think they should. Perhaps we fail to look beyond our own narrow perceptions of the way we think it should be. Again, it’s our perceptions … it’s all about us, isn’t it? Just as with the early disciples, this readjustment in thought and in attitude ... this new way of life does not happen easily. It doesn’t happen overnight and it is certainly not automatic.
In our treatment of one another, Jesus challenges us to go beyond just what is expected ... to go beyond what we think is reasonable or achievable. Jesus asks us to go beyond our basic human reaction and reach for the divine. We know that on our own, this is impossible.
Saint Paul tells us in our Second Reading, that only through the grace of God and as temples of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, can this be even remotely possible.
This mission ... this challenge ... this new way of life is possible only when we experience the love of God ... the God who has loved us from the beginning ... the God who loves us first.
Living the message of today’s Gospel calls us to accept what we might consider our own “Mission Impossible” ... We are called to radically change the way we live ... We must not be satisfied with living the minimums ... We must not get stuck in the socially accepted ways of responding to others ... We must not limit how we love.
What Jesus is asking us to do is to look at every person ... friend or foe ... family member or stranger as one of God's loved ones. If we do this, we can achieve our mission impossible ... to be holy as God is holy ... to be perfect as God is perfect ... not in any kind of dramatic way, but in the simple everyday gestures of love, respect and care for one another.
Before he died in 1948, Mohandas Gandhi wrote the following words:
“Have I the nonviolence of the brave in me? My death alone will show that. If someone killed me and I died with a prayer for the assassin on my lips and God’s remembrance and consciousness of His living presence in the sanctuary of my heart, only then would I have the
nonviolence of the brave.”