Homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In last Sunday’s gospel we heard Jesus’ discourse to the disciples, Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Today’s gospel continues this discourse with the same seemingly paradoxical, even absurd, directives for his followers. These statements would have almost assuredly thinned out the crowd that was following Jesus. What he proposes is completely foreign to their way of thinking.
The Hebrew Scriptures codify a “theology of reciprocity.” The covenant that God strikes with Abram graphically illustrates this theology. Abram is directed to cut a three-year- old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon in two. Then Abram and God walk between the carcasses. What God and Abram are saying is, “May what happened to these animals happen to me if I betray this covenant.
The covenant between God and the children of Israel made at Sinai also shows this line of thinking. God directs Moses to tell the people, “If you will be my people, then I will be your God.” The entire culture of Israel was built on this understanding. Whenever the people turned away from the God of Israel, some catastrophe befell them culminating in their being led back into slavery again at the hands of Assyria.
However, the prophets began to realize that after a short respite God always seemed to forgive the people. When they realized their sin and returned to the worship of the God of Israel, God would take them back even though they had violated their covenant agreement. By the time we get to the prophet Ezekiel, the conditional covenant was restated as, “You will be my people, and I will be your God.”
Psalm 103, which we use today as our response to the readings, is a song of praise that enunciates the very nature of God. God pardons iniquities, heals our ills, redeems our lives, and crowns us with kindness and compassion. The psalmist recognizes that the real cornerstone of the covenant of Sinai is found in the Hebrew word “hesed,” which is rendered as merciful or loving kindness. It began to dawn on them that God is not a God of reciprocity. Rather God is mercy and compassion personified.
Jesus proclaims that truth in his discourse. What sounds as seeming paradox, absurdity and foolishness is actually the logical extension of God’s way of acting toward the children of Israel. The statements to love one’s enemies, to turn the other cheek, to give freely whatever is asked of us are the way God has acted toward the people even though they had abandoned God time and again.
The Scriptures tell us that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Some people think that this means that human beings look like God. This is simply not the case. God has no body, is not a corporeal being. God’s image and likeness are found in God’s mercy and compassion. If we are made in that image and likeness, then it follows that those who believe in God will act with mercy and compassion, even when it seems to be the worst possible response to what others have done to us.
The Gospel of Matthew proclaims that we are to become perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Luke changes that statement. In Luke’s Gospel we read, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” God’s perfection is found in God’s mercy.
Of course, words come easily. Those listening to Jesus would have reacted the same way we react when we hear someone tell us what to do. “Put your money where your mouth is.” Amazingly, this is exactly what Jesus did. Though he possessed more power than all his persecutors, he became a lamb led to slaughter, dying on a cross to put an exclamation point on this teaching that we hear today. That is what we celebrate every time we gather around God’s table. Jesus died for us and to show us the way we are to live if we wish to be his followers.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.