To read the texts click on the texts: Lev 19:1-2,17-18; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48
Leviticus 19 is considered one of the grand chapters of the Book of Leviticus. A summary of the whole chapter is contained in the injunction in 19:2 which states, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” In order to explicate this standard, an example is given from almost every aspect. The examples are so wide ranging that they may be considered as a summary of the law.
The last of the five injunctions is on holiness in neighbourliness. It goes right to the core of the matter and states that relationship with neighbour determines one’s relationship with God. Even in case of disagreement there must be ‘carefrontation’ rather than hate. This ‘carefrontation’ can even be open and frank. This is because the unity of the whole community is of prime importance.
The Matthean Jesus takes up this theme in the Sermon on the Mount. In the fifth of the sixth antitheses, Jesus not only affirms the thrust of the Law in opposing unlimited revenge, but also calls for a rejection of the principle of retaliatory violence as well. In the five examples that follow (being struck in the face, being sued in court, being requisitioned into short-term compulsory service, giving to beggars and lending to borrowers) the one point being made is to place the needs of others before one’s own needs. The disciple of Jesus is called to go beyond the call of the Law and do more than it requires.
It is so easy for us to be reactors. If someone does something to hurt us, we think that it is “natural” for us to want to do something to hurt him or her in return. In the text of today, Jesus is calling us to be actors and not reactors and to do what we do because we think it is right and just and not as a reaction to someone else’s action. In the last of the six antitheses Jesus speaks of non-retaliation and love of enemies. While there is no command to hate the enemy in the Old Testament, yet, there are statements that God hates all evildoers and statements that imply that others do or should do the same. Jesus, makes explicit here the command to love enemies. This is the behaviour expected of a true disciple of Jesus. They cannot merely love those who love them, since one does not require to be a disciple to do this. Everyone, even the vilest of people can do this. The conduct of the disciples of Jesus must reveal who they are really are, namely “sons and daughters of God”.
The command to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” is similar to the injunction in Leviticus “to be holy” because the Lord id holy. It does not mean to be without faults, but to be undivided in love as God is undivided in love.
The love we have for others is more often than not a conditional love. We indulge in barter exchange and term it love. We are willing to do something for someone and expect that they do the same or something else in return. It is a matter of “give”, but also a matter of “take”. When Jesus asks us to be like the heavenly Father, he is calling us to unconditional love. However, he too summarises the Sermon in the final words of today’s Gospel when he asks his hearers to ‘be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect”.
This is why Paul exhorts the Corinthian community to treat their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit dwells in each of us, then it is not possible that we will ignore, be indifferent or hate anyone. Our discipleship and following of Christ has to show itself in the manner in which we treat ourselves and others. When there is unconditional love and acceptance, then it is a sure sign that God dwells in us and is present in our communities.