Father Valan Arockiaswamy

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HOMILIES

Close Dear Audience,
For better understanding of the spiritual message behind this homily I kindly remind you to first read and contemplate the biblical texts before reading or listening to my preaching - a human reflection on the Word of God!

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Feb 19, 2017 Views 152 Listen 3 Downloads 0
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First Reading

A reading from the Book of Leviticus (19:1-2, 17-18)

The Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.

You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord."

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13)


(R) The Lord is kind and merciful.

Bless the Lord, O My soul; and all my being, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forgot not all His benefits. (R)

He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion. (R)

Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. Not according to our sins does He deal with us, nor does He requite us according to our crimes. (R)

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He put our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. (R)

Second Reading

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (3:16-23)

Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written: God catches the wise in their own ruses, and again: The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Gospel

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (5:38-48)

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, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for He makes His sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."

(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
(R) Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Homily

A man bitten by a dog was being treated for rabies in hospital. But the treatment was not working and, the man looked as if he was going to die. Having made the assumption that the man had only three days to live, the doctor advised him to make his last will. The man took a piece of paper and started to write. He wrote and wrote until finally, the doctor said to him, "That certainly is a lengthy will you are making." The man raved, "Will? No way. I am just making a list of people I am going to bite".

In today's gospel, Jesus urges us not to take revenge on someone or continue to hate the wrongdoer but love him instead. Before examining the text, let us briefly review some of the themes that we have explored thus far. Three weeks ago, we started to read the Sermon on the Mount which is recorded in the gospel of Matthew. The Sermon begins with eight Beatitudes in which Jesus, addressing the crowds gathered around him, explained the types of people who are the recipients of God's favor and grace, Matthew (5:1-12). Then He turned to His newly chosen disciples, most of who were fishermen and, said that they are "the salt of the earth" and "light of the world". That is, like salt in the taste of food, his disciples are to add the right kind of "flavor" to the dull world and to people whose lives have become tasteless.

Like light in the prevailing darkness, his disciples are to shine or make their faith visible to the world. Moreover, they must retain their distinctiveness so as to have an influence on society in a positive way for God's glory, Matthew (5:13-16). And then He told them that He did not come to destroy or nullify the Old Testament laws or exhortations of the prophets but to efficiently fulfill or demonstrate its true significance and value. Last week, we saw Jesus radicalizing and extending four of the laws - murder, adultery, divorce and oaths.

He modified and expanded the law that forbids:

  • "murder" to include anger, resentment and refusal to forgive;
  • "adultery" to include even just a lustful look or thought;
  • "divorce" by advocating life-long fidelity between the spouses in order to avoid the danger of falling into sin;
  • "false oaths" by telling them to avoid taking oaths altogether, Matthew (5:17-37).

In today's gospel, just like that of last week, Jesus once again rectifies two more Old Testament laws namely:

  • the law of retaliation or the ancient saying "an eye for an eye" and "a tooth for a tooth", Matthew (5:38);
  • the law of hating one's enemies, Matthew (5:43).

First, what does the "law of retaliation" mean? The law of retaliation refers to a retaliation authorized by law, in which the punishment corresponds to the nature and degree of the offence of the wrongdoer. In the days before Moses the natural reaction to any crime, sin, or offence was open retaliation. For instance, we see the unrestraint retaliation taking place in the story of Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, Genesis (4:1-16). When they both came to worship before the Lord, Cain offered some of the fruits of the soil and Abel offered the firstborn lambs from his flock. God accepted Abel and his offering but rejected Cain and his offering. The text does not mention any reason for the rejection.

Some people suggest that Cain's offering was rejected because it was offered according to the dictates of his own mind not with faith because it did not come from the heart but was done grudgingly just to fulfill the law. But I don't think this is necessarily the case, since the laws regarding sacrifices had not yet been given at the time, Leviticus (3). Hence, it is possible that both had received some instruction on what constituted an acceptable sacrifice for God, or that Cain had committed other wrongs that would make his offering unacceptable to God.

Whatever the reason for God's rejection, this made Cain very angry and dejected. He invited his brother to the fields and killed him. God spoke to Cain about the murder and urged him to do the right thing so that he would be accepted, Genesis (4:7). In the Book of Genesis, we have another story of uncontrolled revenge, Genesis (4:23-24). Lamech, a fifth generation descendant of Cain, apparently murdered a man who hit him and returned home without any sense of guilt and boasted of his strength before his wives. So, Moses gave the law of just retaliation meaning "an eye for an eye", "a tooth for a tooth", rather than allowing excess revenge.

The law was essentially to function under the principle, "the punishment should fit the crime". This law is explicitly stated in three different places in the Old Testament - Exodus (21:22-25), Leviticus (24:20) and Deuteronomy (19:21). But unfortunately the people abused or misused the law to personally avenge any insult or crime or injury inflicted on them. Many times they justified their retaliation of striking back or getting even by saying they were just acting according to the God given law.

However, Jesus came and replaced this exacting law of retaliation with the law of non-retaliation, or non-violence, or the law of love. Here Jesus is not saying that his disciples should not oppose evil or withstand evil. He rather taught them that they should respond to evil with good.

He instructed them, therefore:

  • to offer their left cheek as well if someone strikes them on their right cheek, Matthew (5:38-39);
  • to give their cloak as well, if someone forcibly or unjustly takes away their tunic, Matthew (5:40);
  • to walk an extra mile with someone who compels them to walk one mile with them and to willingly do extra work for someone who forces them to work for them against their will, Matthew (5:40);
  • to give whatever they have if someone asks of them, and not to refuse to help anyone who asks them, Matthew (5:42).

In other words, Jesus wanted His disciples:

  • to refuse to return insult for insult because a slap on a face is an insult and it is intended to provoke a reaction of confrontation;
  • to give others more than what they ask, not just the inner tunic but also the outer garment;
  • to go beyond what is asked of them;
  • to do good without expecting anything in return.

Second, as for the second law, there is no direct reference in the Old Testament which commands people to "love" their neighbour and "hate" their enemy but is inferred. As a matter of fact, in today's first reading from the Book of Leviticus, we read that God instructed Moses to tell people, "You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart... You shall love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord", Leviticus (19:17-18). So, Jesus here perhaps projected the prevailing mentality and practices among the Israelites during His time.

Particularly, in Talmud, a book that contains Jewish laws and traditions, many laws are heavily biased in favour of the Jews against the gentiles. For instance, in the Talmud it is written that if "a gentile hits a Jew, the gentile must be killed. If a gentile loses something, a Jew may keep it, even if he knows who the owner is. A gentile must pay wages to the Jews, but a Jew does not have to pay wages to the gentile" and so on.

Jesus strongly rebuked the Jews for these "oral doctrines" or "written down traditions", and instructed His disciples to love both their neighbors and enemies. According to Jesus, neighbors are those who do "good", "love and "greet" others, and enemies are those who do "evil", "hate" and "persecute" others, Matthew (5:43-47). Jesus also taught them what it actually means to love their enemies. He called them to love their enemies as themselves through greetings, prayers and good deeds. Finally, Jesus told His disciples that He demands all this because they are the children of God the Father, who provides "sun" and "rain" which are essentials, to both "the good and bad", "the just and the unjust", Matthew (5:45). Thus, Jesus called on His disciples to "be perfect, just as God the Father is perfect", Matthew (5:48).

Friends, some people in the world choose the path of excess retaliation, violence and vengeance to deter and fight off people and, as a result, thousands of innocent people are also killed every day throughout the world. Some others in the world choose the path of exact retaliation or retributive justice. If they perceive injustice in their interpersonal relationships or in their workplace and, if there is no apology for misconduct, they feel morally justified in their outrage. They think that people should receive what they deserve.

But as followers of Christ, we are expected to imitate the perfection of God. Imagine! Given the human instinct for revenge, if all human beings apply the law of retaliation - an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, literally and liberally, today most of us would be blind and toothless. Our Lord Jesus calls us to choose the path of non-violence or non-retaliation; to love both our neighbors and enemies as ourselves.

He wants us to greet and pray for both the righteous and the unrighteous. He says that we must go an extra mile, that is, freely show mercy, compassion, care, generosity, love, help and offer forgiveness to all even to those who do not deserve it. However, we must remember that when we try to become like our Heavenly Father we might be seen as losers by worldly standards but winners in God's sight. God sees us holy, blameless and beautiful and, crowns us winners because we are His children.

(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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