7TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A
By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus
Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-38
Theme: Holiness and Perfection
In the first reading of today’s Mass, God asked Moses to say to the people of Israel, “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy” and in the gospel reading, Jesus said to his disciples and the people around, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Today’s readings therefore, calls us to a life of holiness and perfection, and this call is at the heart of the Christian message, as the practice of Christianity is meant to lead us to a life of holiness.
What then does it mean to be holy? The Hebrew word for ‘holy’ is ‘Kadosh’, which means “different from.” To be ‘kadosh’ is to be different from others. It was in this light that Saint Peter says “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, A PEOPLE SET APART for God…” (1 Pet 2:9). This implies that God is calling upon us to live a life that is different from that of the world around us; God is calling us to make a difference in our world; God is calling us to set a standard for the world to follow, and not following the standards of the world. As Saint Paul says, we must not “be conformed to the standards of this world” (Rom 12:2). As we often hear it said, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” But this should not be the philosophy of a Christian. We should rather adopt the approach of “If you can’t beat them, don’t join them, rather, make a difference.” Hence, people around us may be stealing, cheating, lying, fornicating, gossiping, backbiting, and being adulterous as though it were the norm, but we must not be like them; we must rather be ‘kadosh’, be different from them, for we serve a God who is holiness himself.
In the gospel reading, Jesus tells us that we must be perfect. The Greek word for perfect, which Jesus uses, is ‘teleios.” This word is often used in a very special way and it depicts full maturity in one sense. Hence, a full grown man who is tall is teleios in comparison with a dwarf; an experienced driver is teleios compared to a learner. In another sense, teleios can be used to depict proper functionality. Thus, when a thing serves the purpose for which it was made, it is said to be ‘teleios.’ Hence, a clock is teleios if it tells the time correctly; a screwdriver is teleios if it fits perfectly into the screw; a shoe is teleios if it fits the leg very well; a microphone is teleios if it does not break intermittently; and a man is teleios if he fulfills the purpose of his creation.
At creation, God said about man, “Let us make man in our image and likeness” (Gen 1:26), which means that man was created to resemble God. The simple catechism tells us that “God made us to know him, to love him and serve him in this world…” So when we do these simple, basic things of knowing, loving and serving God, then we shall be teleios. How then can we be holy and perfect? We find simple and straight answers in the readings of today’s Mass.
- The first reading says do not hate, do not seek nor take revenge, do not bear a grudge against no one, love your neighbor as yourself
- The second reading says preserve the holiness of your bodies, for you are God’s temple, and God’s temple is meant to be kept holy and pure
- The gospel reading admonishes us against taking revenge or being partial and encourages us to be generous and pray even for the wicked.
When we do these and other similar basic but good things, then we shall attain the level of holiness and perfection.
It is important to note that God is the One who is set before us as the measure/standard for holiness and perfection, not our father or mother or priest or prayer leader or any human being. “Be holy, FOR I, THE LORD YOUR GOD, AM HOLY.” You, therefore, must be perfect, AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER is perfect.” This means that it is God we should look up to and try to be like. While human beings can inspire us, we must not set any human as our standard for holiness and perfection as we are all struggling on a journey together, and human beings can fail/disappoint us.
Let us not keep in mind, dear friends, that the major call God puts across to us today is to transform our world from where we are by being different from the world and by making effort to fulfill the purpose of our existence. Let us make the effort therefore, to be holy and perfect like our heavenly father. May the Lord Jesus supply us the grace of holiness and perfection. Amen. Have a blessed Sunday.