The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt youself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings. (R./)
It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion. (R./)
The Lord is compassion and love,
slow to anger and rich in mercy.
He does not treat us according to our sins
nor repay us according to our faults. (R./)
As far as the east is from the west
so far does he remove our sins.
As a father has compassion on his sons,
the Lord has pity on those who fear him. (R./)
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are.
Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile."
So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apol'los or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's.
Jesus said to his disciples, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Some like to portray God as an ever-vigilant watcher. With a warning finger raised the preachers would warn, “Wherever you are, God sees you.” They were echoing the feelings of Job who felt oppressed by the thought that God was judging his faults every moment. “Will you never take your eyes off me?” Job complained (Job 7:19). Perhaps they centred too much on warnings, with not enough practical encouragement to love our neighbour as ourselves.
“Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy,” says the first reading. Then it adds the principle of “an eye for an eye” which was not such a totally barbaric practice as it seems at first sight. It was meant to help the people to exercise some restraint towards their defeated enemies. It became known as the Law of Retaliation and puts limits on the level of revenge that could be taken for an injury. Otherwise, unrestrained total war could spread throughout the world. If there are no limits to revenge, we could see the collapse of civilisation and everybody being killed. There is a breakdown of cohesion in some parts of our world, with the resulting instability and floods of refugees.
Even the earliest Christians could be quarrelsome, some siding with Paul and some with Apollos and so on. But those tensions, once healed, can sharpen the focus of a community. They led people back to prayer, to dialogue and a new kind of unity. “As the Lord has forgiven you,” St Paul says, “put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And le the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”
Earlier thinkers before Jesus had stated the principle not to do to others what you would not have them do to you. That is perhaps the basic law underlying all manners and politeness. But Jesus puts it more positively. We must actually DO things for others.. There is the story of the man who appeared at the gate of heaven asking for entry. When St Peter asked him why he should be let in the man answered: “my hands are clean.” “Yes,” answered Peter, “but they are empty!’ The Christian ethic is one of active loving.
Mercy is the outstanding gift of God even of the “Old Testament God” whom many imagine as predominantly harsh and punitive. Our psalm emphasises that God is not a grim judge, seeking to condemn. Rather, “The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy.” Our Saving Lord is concerned only to remove our sins and to make us one with him.
Other thinkers had said: "do not do to others what you would not have them do to you." That is perhaps the basic law of manners and politeness. Jesus, characteristically, goes beyond this: Do to others.. The Christian ethic is positive. It goes beyond "Thou shalt not.." to "Do..." It is activist. There is the story of the man who appeared at the gate of heaven asking to be let in. Saint Peter asked him why he thought he should be let in. The man answered: "my hands are clean." "Yes," answered Peter, "but they are empty!'
The Christian ethic always asks us to grow. Many people are puzzled and confused because Christian moral guides are sometimes slow to lay down a clear minimum which people must achieve to be justified. But Jesus asks for more. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?" What is so special about that? Jesus asks for extra. We told his disciples: "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Yet with those who tried and failed he was full of sympathy and compassion. He will never say "enough," but he will not reject anyone who has failed and comes back to him.
Some people see life in terms of survival of the fittest, or 'dog-eat-dog'. David had his chance to kill his enemy before his enemy killed him, as Saul fully intended to do. But he held back and he would not take Saul's life. The temptation to violence is an easy one. The world is full of wars and violent confrontations. We yield too readily to our instincts of aggression, whether it is the great aggression where nation confronts nation in a balance of terror, or violent confrontations between groups of citizens, or violence in the home. Education in peaceful means of solving interpersonal and intercommunal difficulties is one of the greatest needs of our age. The way is open to Christians to start to learn more about non-violent means of solving conflicts and becomes peacemakers.
The cowboy films of my boyhood had a recurrent scene that always intrigued me. In the bar-room shoot-out, the crook, beaten to the draw, tottered to the floor, riddled with bullets. As the gunman turned away, the dying crook weakly raised his gun and fired a last shot into the gunman's back. Then he slumped back and died, almost contentedly, a wisp of smoke spiralling from his gun and a flicker of a smile on his face. Sweet revenge!
I accepted all this then as part of the Western fantasy-world. I know better now. Life is full of people with chips on their shoulders, real or imaginary, all waiting for a chance to get their own back. They carry their scars through life, refusing to let them heal until they have settled accounts. Feuds, vendettas and - grudges are nurtured in parishes, in streets and even in families.
Some are even passed down from one generation to the next. A colossal amount of energy and ingenuity is expended on settling old scores and exacting vengeance. The lex talionis - "an eye for eye and tooth for tooth" - is alive and well and thriving in every human environment, but nowhere more so than in the in dustrial world. Management singles out troublemakers for redundancy. Blacklists are kept. Workers know where and when to call a lightening strike and who in management is to be sacri ficed. Even in the corridors of power, in the velvet setting of plush boardrooms, the knives are long and sharp and are slipped between pin-striped shoulder-blades almost with a smile.
Honour is always at stake when the God of vengeance is invoked. "Getting one's own back" is raised to the level of a virtue in our world. The injured party could never hold its head up again if the injury is not repaid. Loved ones too are invoked. We owe it to our wives and children. "Getting even" becomes an obsession. "I'll fix him if it is the last thing I do." Shades of the prostrate crook and his smoking six-shooter! The world has nothing but contempt for the one who "turns the other cheek." He is a weakling. "He took it lying down." It goads us on to vengeance. "Don't let them get away with it."
The Bible tells us otherwise. The Lord said to Moses: "You must not take revenge, nor bear a grudge against the children of your people." What is refreshing about today's gospel is that it recognises us as we are, full of pettiness, exacting hurt for hurt, trading blow for blow. We all have enemies who persecute us. Letting them get away with it is not easy. Loving them is a call to perfection, to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.