Today’s readings explain why Christians are expected to be holy and how we are meant to become holy people. The first and second readings give us reasons why we should be holy, and the Gospel describes four ways of becoming holy people prescribed for us by Jesus, using three examples of graceful Christian retaliation when people offend us and violate our rights and privileges.
Scripture lessons summarized:
The first reading, taken from the book of Leviticus, teaches us that we should be holy because it is the command given to us by God through Moses: “Be holy, for I the Lord, your God, am Holy.” It also shows us the way to share in God’s holiness: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 103) challenges us to be holy as our God is Holy by becoming kind and merciful and forgiving, as He is to us.
In the second reading, St. Paul gives us an additional reason to be holy. We are to keep our bodies and souls holy because we are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit lives in us. In the Gospel passage, taken from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us four ways of becoming holy as God is holy.
We need to become holy:
1) The first way is to abstain from all forms of retaliation. Jesus discards even the milder form of retaliation developed by Hammurabi in ancient Babylon and passed on to Israel through Moses. The policy was one of limited, proportional retaliation (Lex Talionis, “tit-for-tat”): “an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth,” rather than allowing unlimited vengeance. In place of this limited, proportional retaliation, Jesus gives his new law of love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and no retaliation. For Jesus, retaliation, or even limited vengeance, has no place in the Christian life, even though graceful acceptance of an offense requires great strength, discipline of character, and strengthening by God’s grace.
2) The second way of becoming holy as God is Holy is to take the offense gracefully and love the offender. Jesus illustrates this in three images: “turning the other cheek, freely giving the tunic and adding the cloak to it, and walking the extra mile.” Jesus tells us that what makes Christians different is the grace with which they treat others, offering them loving kindness and mercy as God does for us, even if they don’t deserve this treatment. We are commanded to love our enemies as Jesus loves us, with agápe love, not because our enemies deserve our love, but because Jesus loves them so much that he died for them as he did for us.
3) The third way of sharing in God’s Holiness is by unconditionally and whole-heartedly forgiving the offender without planning revenge in any form. This means not only loving one’s neighbours, but also forgiving those enemies who hurt us and seem willfully to cause us suffering, hardship and unhappiness.
4) The fourth way of becoming holy as God is Holy is to seal our determination to forgive our enemies by sincerely praying for their spiritual and physical welfare and for the grace they need for their conversion and renewal of life.
Thus, today’s Scripture readings challenge us to become holy as our God is Holy by loving, forgiving, and blessing others, even our enemies with graceful and magnanimous love, as our Holy God does for us.