‘Pray for those who persecute you’
By Msgr. Owen Campion
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first reading is from the Book of Leviticus, one of the five books of the Pentateuch, the Torah, the basic revelation by God to the Chosen People.
This reading reports the day when God spoke to Moses. “I the Lord, your God, am holy,” says God. He continues that no one must hate another, using the term “brother” as if to emphasize the point.
The reading sets the stage for the message from St. Matthew’s Gospel that will follow as the third reading.
St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians provides the second reading. A favorite image employed by Paul throughout his writings was that, through faith and in baptism, Christians literally bond with Christ. In Christ, they become heirs to eternal life. In Christ, they receive the Holy Spirit, bringing into their very beings divine grace and strength.
Having made this point, the Apostle then continues to remind the Corinthian Christians that, ultimately, they are not wise. They may be wise in a worldly sense, but often genuine wisdom comes across as foolishness to the worldly.
It was a fitting reminder. Corinth was totally immersed in the pagan world of the Roman Empire. Everything seemingly extolled the majesty of the Roman culture. This culture had created the legal system that brought order to human society, a system that still lives, being the basis of law in Western civilization to this day. The very wonders of Roman architecture and art reaffirmed the depth and greatness of human wisdom in the empire.
Against this backdrop of the splendor of all things Roman and pagan, Paul tells the Corinthians that there is much more.
St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. The context is the Sermon on the Mount, as Christians long ago came to call this section of the Gospel.
In the background is the Jewish preoccupation with keeping God’s law. In the Covenant, so basic to Judaism, God called the Jews to obedience. In obeying divine law, they would indeed be God’s people, and God would protect them and bless them.
Here, in this reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord sets forth a series of contrasts. He gives a basis for obeying the law, separating truly Christian response to the law, which is love for God and others, from a series of mere maxims and rules.
God has revealed to us the divine law. It is no set of rules for the sake of rules. Rather, it is the blueprint by which we can live, more fully resembling the perfection and love that dwells in the Holy Trinity. So, the law of God is vitally important.
In each of the statements of Jesus recorded in this reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus draws a significant comparison. Realizing that God’s law, as revealed to Moses, is of God and cannot be abridged or cancelled, the Lord did not discount the law or belittle it.
Rather, these words illustrate the fact that the Lord came to fulfill it. What does this mean? Observing God’s law does not mean simply going through motions, as meaningful as the results may be. More profoundly, it means obeying God because of trust in, and love for, God.
God is love, and at the root of God’s love is love. God lovingly revealed the divine law to us for our benefit. If we respond because of our love for God, to be with God, then we obey fittingly. Then our obedience assumes a wonderfully higher personal meaning.
The reading finally reveals to us the identity of the Lord. God gave the law. Only God, as lawgiver, can interpret the law. Jesus acts in a divine role by answering questions about the law. He is God.